Review Summary: Despite the lack of Lou Barlow, J Mascis and the Dino manage to put out an amazing example of traditional alternative rock. Raw, emotional, straight-forward 90's rock.
The first time I had ever heard of the band named Dinosaur Jr
...I laughed. The band name itself brings a few chuckles. This clever moniker appealed to my interests and soon enough I found myself listening to my first Dinosaur Jr song,Start Choppin
. The song, like the band's style, was a mix of guitar distortion, faint baselines, frequent guitar solos, chill alternative song-writing, and some stoner vocals. Rather J Mascis was actually high during the recording is an entirely different subject though.
Where You Been
was the second album without Lou Barlow, the original Dinosaur Jr bassist, and one of the founding members of the band. It was also their second consecutive album under a major label, their first being Green Mind
. However, unlike its predocessor, "Where You Been" was the first album by the trio to break into the UK top 10, and US top 50. It also was accompanied by the lead single "Start Choppin", which peaked in the UK top 20, giving the band its first minor hit. Essentially, the Junior got some of their first mainstream attention.
With that aside, when a person spins this album, it is quite evident who Dinosaur Jr is. J Mascis is the brains and balls behind the project, while Mike Johnson (Bass) and Murph (Drums) were just along for the ride. The two are quite talented at their instruments, but neither are credited in any of the songwriting credits for this album, and probably just did what Mascis told them. Regardless, Where You Been
makes for an excellent listen.
Let us not forget one of most important and prominent aspects of this album, the guitar prescence. It is quite obvious that J Mascis knows his way around 6 strings, often beginning the song with a chill solo-ette as shown in the opening song, Out There
, which was the other single off the album. The solo itself sets up the album pretty darn well, showcasing Mascis' classic knowledge of the wammy bar. The song is pretty strong, consitently telling the listener that he knows "you're out there". Mascis will never be known for his intensly introspective lyrics or clever song titles, but the music speaks for itself. He starts his next solo around 4:00, wailing away once again on his frets, abusing his wammy bar yet again. But, i can't complain as its quite beautiful, with each note speaking more about the tone of the song that its actual lyrics.
Next, Start Choppin
begins with a clean electric riff before the bass comes in and the distortion takes over. The riff is the best on the album, and in my opinion, the riff to the number one track pick. Then around 0:42, Mascis hits one his highest notes on the album, which may be off-putting at first, but it really grows with time. Another chorus and another high-pitched "good-bye" later, Mascis begins one of his best solos on the CD, starting with a more classical Dino Jr style, before he methodically shreds along to the song, showcasing quicker fret work. Start Choppin
's verses continue again, picking up with another more Mascis-esque solo on 4:22, to finish out the song.
What Else Is New
, the third track, is one of the few tracks where the bass guitar isn't drowned by Mascis' heavy guitars. It's primarily composed of a simple, cymbal heavy drum line, an acoustic riff, and one of Mascis' more impressive vocal performances. Yet, J Mascis won't ever forget to often come in with his high frets and knock a small solo in between verses. But towards the end, the drums drop out, and the acoustic and bass guitars do most of the work, only to be accompanied by violins or low-key percussion. Certainly one of the stronger tracks on the albums.
Where You Been
is strangely diverse, complex, and yet holds a simple mold in each of its songs. To follow What Else Is New
, the fourth track, On the Way
, shows this more simple, straight up rock jam. The trio begin the song in an almost Blink-182 fashion, with Murph quickly pounding away at his kit, driving Mascis's use of power chords. Johnson and the bass guitar pop in and out like a gopher throughout the song, being more prominent during the choruses and then falling back into the wall of noise. Of course about 1:40, our frontman begins to 'widdley dee' on that guitar of his ever so appropriately. Yet, the main stand out of the song would be Murph's drumming, by far the most memorable and strongest performance on the album, driving the three and a half minute track.
Not The Same
is the most emotional and haunting song on Where You Been
. The song begins with a duet of a deep guitar riff on chorus mode alongside an acoustic guitar. In the background is the deep bass tone of an alternative percussion that Murph chose to use instead. Johnson's bass is...'there' if you will, but not really a prescence as it was on the previous tracks. However, the trully haunting part of this song is that it lopes on with the same cycle between the duet guitar chorus and the acoustic/violen driven verses. The verses are trully chilling as Mascis gives his most unique vocals on a more whiny/high-pitched level, yet he manages to pull it off unlike many modern alternative bands. Being the longest track on the album, its quite confusing to note that it lacks a solo, something very rare among Dinosaur Jr songs. It later has a pretty piano sequence to accompany the acoustic/violin verses at 4:10. The song then finishes out with the duet guitar chorus, and an even more prominent deep bass percussion before the song fades out on twin violins.
The first thing i thought on Get Me
was country. It is no country song, but it made me think of the actual open plains that i often see driving through the state of Texas (My home state). The song is comprised of a fairly simple power chord riff, a slow drum beat by johnson and the bass pops back in during the verses. Its a great follow up to the emotional Not the Same
. It has a very enjoyable chorus where the Jr manage to create a wall of sound while Mascis and a female voice echo out the chorus. There a three solos, each better than the last, but specifically, the third solo, which finishes the song, is quite excellent, and one of the strongest on the album.
starts and already you can tell its a rehash of the previous song. It has the same feeling, pace, power chord progression, and a chill alternative rock feeling. It's nice and relaxing, but just too much like the previous song. However, i was shocked on first listen when the trio perform a Dinosaur Jr style breakdown on 2:19, where there is a church bell, and heavy pummelling of the percussion once again. The breakdown ends and there is another verse before Mascis brings in another solo. Nothing special about the track other than the breakdown, which was pretty neat in its own right.
A bass-line begins the song Hide
, before they pick up the pace and boom into a quick paced, and heavier track. It shows some 'chugga chugga' riffing at times, and the vocals are fairly standard for Mascis other than in 1:46 he reaches another really high note that doesnt work as well as it did on Start Choppin
. The song isn't as well thought out as some of the others on the album, and in my opinion, one of the few filler tracks on the Where You Been
. Its strong, and by no means alienating, but its just a standard alternative track that i could see Nirvana writing back in the day. Shot solo too. Shame.
Now, the second to last song is quite strong and has a beautiful riff that is performed by both the electric and acoustic guitar. Goin Home
is the second most emotional song, and slightly more approachable of the two (when paired with Not the Same
). It's fairly blues-y based, and during the chorus a mellotron provides a backing wall of sound that really cements the song's strength. Its not as complex and solo fanatic as some of the other songs, but its just as or more memorable.
Finally, the album concludes with the shortest song on the album. It starts off with the wail of J's guitar, before continuing on a upbeat line with the acoustic guitar. Johnson gives out one of his better performances on the bass fortunately. At the end, the chorus wails on like it did on the beginning, being driven by the melodic guitar notes from Mascis. Shortly there after, as he starts to repeat those high notes again, the song slowly fades away. It finishes just as quickly as it starts.
At first the album seemed linear, one-angled, and it dragged on a bit towards the end. Yet, upon further, deeper listens, the music began to speak to me in a different way. It doesn't grasp the listener at the first, or second, or maybe even fifth listen. But suddenly it becomes different notes, different vocals, different music
on that Nth listen. On that Nth listen it just fits, it works, and it hit me. Where You Been
is a deeper and more complex album than you would initially realize on first listen. It might boil down to be alienating at first, Johnson's inaudible bass may begin peeve you, or simply J Mascis doesn't end up having your style of voice. Yet, the impurities of this album is what makes it so honest and fascinating. There is no heart wrenching pain, no hidden messages, no joyous celebration, no over-production. It's crude, unperfected, surface oriented alternative rock. Yet, whenever i spin this CD, it makes me just want to sit down and...smile.
-What Else Is New
-Not The Same