Twenty years ago, a record was released. It was met with very little fanfare, though it contained some very groundbreaking music. Six years later, Nirvana would ride this new style of music to superstardom, while Dinosaur Jr. would still remain underground. Going against the punk trend of no guitar solos, Dinosaur Jr. had a great blend of solid bass, great drumming, and insane riffs and guitar solos. Though some find J Mascis's voice whiny and annoying, his songwriting is among the best of the 1980's. In short, this is one of the most unique records you will find from this era. Here's why:
At the time, the band was still known as Dinosaur. As the story goes, they got sued by a band made of old 1960's singers called the Dinosaurs, as they did not want to be confused with Dinosaur. To appease The Dinosaurs, the Jr. was added to signify that the new band was a generation apart from the others; It is then only fitting that Dinosaur Jr. would be much more famous, albeit mostly underground. There are no hits on this album, but you will find a good range of songs ranging from the folky Cats in a Bowl
to the faux metal Mountain Man
to other classic indie songs.
The only version of this album available is a reissue that came out earlier in 2005; It has some new tracks (from what I could gather, they are Bulbs of Passion
and; the live version of Does it Float?
); Part of the amaze factor of this album is the fact that this sound we attribute to the late '80's Dinosaur or early '90's grunge movement was happening in 1985, during the height of the more typical '80's music; As I stated earlier, the musicianship on this record is tops; J Mascis plays great rhythm parts on the guitar, along with searing leads almost unheard of in their scene at the time. Lou Barlow (founder of indie legends Sebadoh) plays nice, thumping bass to cover for J when he solos. Plus, Murph holds everything together with his drums; his perfectly timed fills and cymbal crashes punctuate the music perfectly.
Some of Dinosaur Jr's best works are on this album; Bulbs of Passion
demonstrates J's love for writing songs with many parts and little formal structure; It more flows along in a continuous stream rather than the usual verse, chorus, verse format normally seen; Lou Barlow's Forget the Swan
is perhaps the best Dinosaur Jr. song ever written, with its perfect blend of acoustic, clean electric, and lead guitars; Great vocal harmonies (if you like J's voice) also help to point out that Dinosaur Jr. was something special; Then there is the weird cross between folk and punk on Cats in a Bowl
; The band's humor also shows through on Mountain Man
, an almost hilarious faux metal work; Repulsion
and Does it Float
are also some very solid songs worth listening to; J even throws in a ballad in the form of Severed Lips
, where his haunting voice and almost surf-like guitar guide you through a great piece of music; His solo on here is awesome, as well.
In addition to the classic works above, the rest of the album features some great indie rock; If there is a weak track, it is the live Does it Float
at the end; however, this is one of the only times someone will be able to hear the raw energy that was an early Dinosaur Jr. show; Yes, the quality of the track sucks, and J seems more intent on screaming and making noise, but that was the point.
There are some reasons that an almost perfect album wasn't a commercial success; Primarily, people weren't ready for this; It sounded like nothing around at the time; Music with guitar solos wasn't supposed to sound this raw; Punk and underground rock wasn't supposed to feature guitars with a lot of solos; While great music, it was just too far ahead of its time; The music world just wasn't ready for the noise rock genre yet; Of course this would all come to a head in October of 1991, with the release of Nirvana's Nevermind
; Some of the true pioneers of the field like Dinosaur Jr. would never find a lot of commercial success other than one or two songs.
Though a great album, this has its drawbacks Albums like Bug
and Green Mind
are a lot more accessible than this one is at some times; Dinosaur
has a rough, unpolished feel that might seem harsh and grating to many of their newer fans. Also missing is a lot of instrumental clarity; Even though other Dinosaur Jr. albums aren't famous for their clarity, even on later records, take a listen to "Feel the Pain," then listen to "Repulsion;" or "Bulbs of Passion."
However, if you are a fan of Dinosaur Jr. or indie rock at all, this is a must-have album, both for the history and the solid songs on it; It truly is a classic of the genre, albiet an unrecognized one.
Bulbs of Passion
Forget the Swan
Cats in a Bowl
Does it Float
Live version of Does it Float
May be too lo-fi or noisy for some people
Hard to find at times
Due to the groundbreaking nature of this album and the excellent content in it, I am compelled to rate it a 5/5.
I would like to point out that the original album was released in 1985, but the new version (that I reviewed) was released in 2005. Sadly, the original is out of print at the time...
This is my first real attempt at a strictly non-TxT review, so forgive me if it seems I got off track at times.