Listening to Beyond, the first album featuring the original 3 members of Dinosaur Jr (J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph) since 1988’s Bug (and a subsequent falling out), I was going to write at length about an old interview with Mascis on Snub TV - but, sure enough, YouTube and Wikipedia fill in the back story there. What struck me was the stark contrast between Mascis the interviewee and Mascis the musician. As he himself points out “There’s nothing going on anywhere really, so you might as well sit where you are.” I can’t imagine the Mascis School of Motivation is over subscribed, but put a guitar in the man’s hands and he’s off and running, screaming fury and love, all articulated over the space of 6 strings and a fretboard.
This is what we want from Dinosaur Jr. Mascis’ shy, laid-back but sweet vocals, hiding behind some simply stunning electric guitar work. Extended solos and walls of effects might be the stuff of Spinal Tap gimmicks and indeed Barlow himself had a couple of digs at Mascis when first starting up ‘rival’ band Sebadoh (“Pedal hopping like a Dinosaur” he sings on Gimmie Indie Rock), but such is Mascis’ mastery that the guitar is the integral part, the character and essence of each song. Now, with Murph back behind the drums and Barlow, surely one of the hardest Bassists around (in playing, if not fighting terms), reconciled and ready to rock, the rhythm section is there to add the muscle behind Mascis’ wanderings and meanderings - you want a power trio? Here you are.
After almost 20 years apart it is in-keeping with the Mascis’ persona that the first song is called Almost Ready and yep, we’re straight into a blistering solo and ‘immediate classic’ territory. Almost Ready kicks down the door of Indie Rock 2007 and politely screams ‘What the fuck’s up with this party?’ Less of an edge, but no slacking in quality for the poppier Crumble. Then early favourite Pick Me Up - 6 and a half minutes and what a journey. The opening riff could be lifted from a scene in an 80s movie, where the baddie is finally getting the upper hand, all adrenaline and activity, working through a chorus that sees Mascis singing - dueting with his guitar before concluding with a 3 minute guitar solo (that’s three minutes). Awesome. Play it alongside No More Shoes by Stephen Malkmus to get an idea what these two heroes are all about.
After all that hi-octane, it’s time to bring things down a bit, with Lou taking over vocal duties on Back to Your Heart. I’m on record as a huge fan of Sebadoh and a large part of that is down to Barlow’s song writing - so when he’s backed by the power of Dinosaur Jr. it’s a no-lose situation. This Is All I Came To Do lifts the mood again and whilst the title may or may not refer to guitar solo-work, the song contains a couple of beauties. Drummer Murph gets to flex on Been There All the Time, laying down some powerful rolls as the band rock out. Hard. Mixing things up, they follow the harder, darker, metal-er(?) It’s Me with the light and airy We’re Not Alone and I Got Lost, which has Mascis’ falsetto voice, sitting atop acoustic guitar, tom rolls and a cello. Lou and his bass take centre-stage for Lighning Bulb before What if I Knew bids us fairwell in the way Mascis knows best…that’s right, a blistering solo.
It’s good to have them back. Since re-forming in 2005, they are amongst a very select group of bands I HAVE to see if they tour near me - and I look forward to seeing them punishing the Marshall Stacks with Beyond.