Key Tracks: “Tiny,” “I Walk For Miles”
It’s taken a while, but it seems like Dinosaur Jr. are finally getting their due praise. On their new album, their 11th and their 7th with the original line-up, the Massachusetts rockers double down on what made them so influential in the first place. Yes, they’re the band that did “Feel the Pain” in 1994, but they still rock harder than most young bands do nowadays.
The band’s 2005 reunion was unexpected, to the point where people mentioned them in the same breath of the Smiths in bands that would never reunite. Since then, the band – in its original three-piece lineup – has maintained a consistency in songwriting, and has delivered a number of albums as intense and interesting as those released in the late 80’s. Although their first post-reunion album, “Beyond” set a high watermark, the albums they’ve released since – including “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not,” have been nothing other than advertised – 40-odd minutes of great rock jams and crazy guitar solos.
Dinosaur Jr. is basically a template by this point. The best radio rock is. Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters – bands that have a “sound” and make songs that are interchangeable among decades, but still feel the urge to include some little unique tick in every track they can. And, truthfully, those bands might not have existed without Dinosaur Jr. They were deeply influential to grunge, but even more so to bands like Foo Fighters, who dominate the alt-rock hybrid radio stations today. Dinosaur Jr. are one of a few bands alongside the likes of Pixies, Mudhoney, Meat Puppets and Green River, among others, who influenced the grunge movement and had their own twilight after the fact. Well, Dinosaur Jr. are still going strong (as are Pixies, Mudhoney and Meat Puppets), and it would be easy to confuse “Glimpse” as an album that came in ’88.
The trio wastes no time getting to the point on the album – the opening and best track, “Goin Down,” starts with a quick second of amp feedback before getting right into one of the simplest and best riffs J. Mascis has written in years. The song transitions nicely into “Tiny,” by all means a catchy and great rock song that ends in a mess of feedback. The album gets somewhat inconsistent from there, but even at it’s dullest it’s still engaging. Tracks like “Good to Know” and “Lost All Day” aren’t particularly memorable, but still stand as great, fuzzy jams. And on the flipside, “I Walk For Miles” and “Knocked Around” both have tempo and mood changes that make them among some of the most memorable songs the band has ever recorded.
The lyrics to Dinosaur Jr. songs have never been typically interesting, and it’s fair to say that continues here. “I Walk For Miles” is also a lyrical highlight, with an ode to a friendship or relationship of some kind falling by the wayside. But even when the lyrics aren’t interesting, J. Mascis’s vocals continue to be. The chorus to opener “Goin Down” is sung straight even when the rhythm doesn’t fit with it. His vocals sound more strained than ever on “Tiny,” and forlorn on “I Walk For Miles.” Still, having Lou Barlow pop up twice on vocals – on tracks 5 and 11 – is a welcome relief, as Mascis’s voice can prove decisive over 5 or 6 songs.
Also, the guitar playing. Oh man. It’s no secret – that’s what makes Dinosaur Jr. great. Simple rhythms and fuzzy 70’s throwback melodies get wrecked by J. Mascis, who solos on what I believe is 10 out of the album’s 11 tracks. On Rolling Stone’s 2011 re-ranking of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, Mascis jumped in to the 88th spot, beating the likes of Carl Perkins, Springsteen, Thurston Moore and my favorite guitarist, Tom Verlaine. It’s noteworthy that in lieu of a third single, Dinosaur Jr. just put all of the guitar solos as one track online to stream in advance of the album. One great thing about Dinosaur Jr. is knowing that even if it’s one of the less interesting tracks, there’s still a killer solo coming up.
This might not go down as a classic Dinosaur Jr. album. But it is great, nearly every song is worthwhile. It serves as a testament to the bands duration, their influence, and their energy, that they’ve kept this act up for so many years now. While they might not be the most popular rock bands, they’re one of the most influential. Buy it, stream it, do whatever pleases you: just please listen to Dinosaur Jr.
-By Andrew McNally