CD Review of Beyond by Dinosaur Jr.

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Released: 2007
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You can’t go back home. Though many bands try this, it’s impossible. Much has been written and many accolades recorded thus far regarding Dinosaur Jr. returning with their original lineup of J Mascis, Murph, and Lou Barlow. But it’s not 19-whatever year it was anymore, and no one but the diehard purists care, anyway. Hey, my introduction to the band was through the still-exceptional Green Mind album when it came out in 1991, which of course led me to then work back through the rest of Jr.’s catalog, which still left me feeling that the new album was the best.

Right, I know all about the legacy of the Bug album and how the leadoff single “Freak Scene” is supposedly the band’s pinnacle tune of some sorts. It’s fine and all -- a typically catchy Dino Jr. tune filled with over-amped Mascis guitar distortion, an impossibly catchy melody, and J’s weary vocals. It’s easily the best thing on the entire album, to be sure. But Barlow would soon be kicked out of the band, having “peaked” on the second album, You’re Living All Over Me, which featured his bloated study in annoyance, “Poledo,” while Mascis was still cranking out the sludge classics like “The Lung,” “Little Fury Things,” and “Raisans.”

Then of course there was the band’s debut album on Homestead, which is notable mainly for the early catchy/noise blueprint “Repulsion” and “Severed Lips,” which Blake Babies covered later on with better results on their Rosy Jack World EP. And so fast-forward back to ’91. There was Green Mind and J was suddenly splashed upon the cover of rock mags everywhere, being touted as the new guitar god and all that other stuff, while Cobain was being hailed as Mr. Tortured Genius or whatever title he didn’t deserve. Eventually, “Dinosaur Jr.” was basically just Mascis, and he continued to release albums which continued to grow more overwrought and by the numbers.

So eventually J and Barlow put aside whatever differences they had and got the band back together. And lo and behold, this also meant a new album. People are falling all over themselves hailing it as the best thing since Bug and “the best rock album of the year.” Not so fast there, junior. It’s only May. And yeah, while it sounds like a “return to form,” which is certainly good for Mascis, since his version of the “band” was getting more and more tired-sounding by the minute, Beyond ain’t no Green Mind. But then, you can never go home.

Beyond’s audio quality is certainly like that of You’re Living All Over Me in that it’s lo-fi and murky. Listen to the first track, “Almost Ready,” and try to find the bass in the mix, let alone Murph’s drums -- they sound like they were recorded two rooms away with the mic in yet another room. And then there’s J’s guitar, which sounds like it’s had a wet towel thrown over its amp, all muffled and restrained. According to some, this song is the rightful successor to “Freak Scene,” but that’s almost an insult to that song.

“Crumble” opens up the sound quite a bit, and the formula is the tried-and-true old one used back in the ‘80s, but the problem is, when listening to it and getting that feeling from it, you can’t help but wonder why. Why not just make some new-sounding stuff? Why this need to get back to a sound that’s dead? Wasn’t getting the band back together enough of a look back in itself? It’s just simply that we’ve heard this before, and while that might be great for those still living under a delusion that the world still cares about alternative rock, the rest who have moved on with the world will only hear it as hollow nostalgia.

Then you get to the borefest that is “Pick Me Up” (too goddamn slow; too much wanking guitar that goes nowhere) and the Barlow-sung “Back to Your Heart.” Ah, yes. We’re all reminded of why Lou didn’t (get to) sing much on Dino Jr. albums. He’s still not very interesting to listen to, Sebadoh be damned. A plodding pace and a sort-of melody do not make a song. Thankfully, J returns once again to lay down the trio of “This Is All I Came to Do,” which is pretty tasty in its retro way; “Been There All The Time,” which sounds like the Dino Jr. of more recent years; and “It’s Me,” which revisits the muddy production of “Almost Ready” minus any hooks.

Of course, a couple tricks have to be pulled out of the sleeves, and so you get “We’re Not Alone” complete with violin, and the acoustic “I Got Lost” where J does his strained falsetto that sounded awkward even when he was doing the same thing on Green Mind. Some things never change. This of course means Barlow gets to sing another song, “Lightning Bulb,” which is even less of an event than “Back to Your Heart.” Maybe it’s time to break up the band again. Ah well, J gets to end it all on “What If I Knew,” your typical Jr. semi-dark closer that will be overlooked for other songs on the album.

So yeah, the band is back together after 19 years, and while it’s certainly a genuine thing, unlike, say, Big Star “getting back together,” the results are pretty much the same. Beyond simply sounds tired and done before, and no one could really care except the truckload of people who have been waiting for this for whatever reasons all this time. It is interesting to hear Dinosaur Jr. pretty much perfectly replicate the late ‘80s/early ‘90s college rawk sound, as if they had been stuck in a bubble all this time. But chances are this will be it, so enjoy it while it lasts. Beyond is decent in its retro way, but it’s far from the best rock album of the year, and it was hardly necessary. Move along, boys.

~Jason Thompson