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Consensus Non-Consensus: Dinosaur Jr. ‘Beyond’

After a certain amount of time, a bands next record transitions from “long awaited” to “overdue” to “dreaded.” Just think of how excited Guns ‘n’ Roses fans were for Chinese Democracy in 1997. Now flash forward to when it was actually released in 2008, as fans mostly just made excuses for why it was so mediocre. For an ongoing example, if you had asked a hip-hop head how excited they were for Dr. Dre’s Detox in 2001 they would have been jumping up and down, but in 2014 the consensus seems to be that The Doctor should probably just stick to designing overpriced headphones rather than tarnish his legacy.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that alternative nation wasn’t exactly clamoring for a new Dinosaur Jr. album in 2007. While they never had the after-the-fact mainstream acceptance of The Pixies, or the unflappable cool of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. are undeniably one of the most important bands of alternative’s first wave. By daring to meld the slacker ethos of their day to the explosive riffs of classic rock (still seen as the corporate enemy at the time), Dinosaur Jr. opened up the genre in way’s perviously thought impossible. In fact, their groundbreaking fusion probably would have been impossible without the world class guitar playing of front man J Mascis.

By releasing the incredible You’re Living All Over Me in 1987, Dinosaur Jr had left their permanent stamp on rock music. Two years later Mascis would kick writing partner Lou Barlow out of the band and while he would go on to release several very good Dinosaur Jr. albums afterwards, fans largely felt the band had run it’s course and Mascis unceremoniously dissolved the project in 1997. While fans and rock historians alike would always love Dinosaur Jr, they were pretty universally willing to leave the band to the pages of history.

Then, in 2005 Dinosaur Jr fans heard those magic/tragic words; reunion tour. While many were excited to see the classic lineup back together again, the bands initial breakup had been notoriously rough, so the feeling that this was a for-profit reunion couldn’t be avoided. Once the tour got started however, those fears subsided, as fans reported intense, passionate live shows where Lou and J were locked into a groove and, shockingly, talking to each other between songs.

While the reunion had gone well, fans were still taken to pause when the band announced they would be recording a new album together. Reliving their glory days was one thing, but to try to add to the classic lineup’s catalog? That hadn’t gone so well for The Stooges and didn’t seem like it would go too well for Dinosaur Jr.

When it was finally released in 2007, Dissolve turned out to be more than just a non-embarrassment, it is damn near a top to bottom masterpiece. While the band will never release anything as groundbreaking as You’re Living All Over Me again, Dissolve is a strong contender for the second best album in the bands catalog. Things kick off with a bang, as “Almost Ready” announces what this new Dinosaur Jr. will sound like. Mascis rips in with a melodic, stabbing solo, meanwhile a few perfectly strummed guitar parts lay down the base for the tune. He sings in his signature smitten mumble, but as always it still works over his jaw dropping guitar work. As the album continues we are reminded that for all their Hard Rawk histrionics, Dinosaur Jr. are just a couple romantic weirdo’s at heart. Mascis has refined his lyric writing and delivery so lines like “I cannot scream, am I hurt?” come out as sweet and revealing instead of sad and introverted.

It doesn’t hurt that just about every song on this album has a great guitar solo on it. In their early days, Mascis always felt the need to balance his god given guitar mastery with a scene built on the rejection of classic rock excess. More than a decade after the rise and fall of grunge, however, Mascis is more than willing to let his flag wave free. While that sounds like the formula for an impenetrable “musicians album”, he and Barlow find such instantly catchy melodies to build around these solo’s that they never seem excessive or unwelcome.

Beyond really is a great album no matter how one approaches it, but the fact that it was released after such a long hiatus marks it as all the more impressive. These days reunion tours are seen as a matter of course, to the point where even the most successful ones can seem a bit superfluous. Dinosaur Jr. smashed that stigma by releasing an album that stands along side their greatest work, not to mention two subsequent albums that are near the same quality. Ultimately, while You’re Living All Over Me will always be Dinosaur Jr.‘s greatest and most important album, Beyond may be the most quintessentially “Dinosaur Jr.” record they ever recorded.

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