I have no bloody clue what the hell I was listening to 20 years ago but I am willing to bet it was nothing resembling the sound of Dinosaur Jr. They were an influential indie band in the style of the Pixies and MTV says, they “injected late-’80s alternative rock with monumental levels of pure guitar noise.” Well, pardon the hell out of me but I never heard of them before Merge records sent me three of their old albums now being issued as cute little compact discs. Therefore, my lack of being cognoscenti in the category of this trio of extinct earthly creatures renders my ears fresh with anticipation and objectivity.
The first Dinosaur Jr. disc, Dinosaur, was released in 1985 and curiously enough, if a band sent me this record and told me they recorded it last week, I wouldn’t have known the difference. Though not incredibly technical on their respective instruments, the threesome of J. Macis, Lou Barlow and (a lad simply known as) Murph competently joined their musical talents to fashion a tight little band. For my old ears, the standouts on this freshman release are “Does it Float,” which sounds like a psychedelic version of early REM jacked up on amphetamines and far more melodic “Severed Lips,” a song that (God bless MTV) does remind me of the Pixies more accessible material.
The sophomore record, You’re Living All Over Me, was originally released in 1987 and with stronger musicianship, sharper lead vocals and more complex arrangements displays the band’s growth over a two year period. Interesting twists like the extremely long intros and dynamic song arrangements make this second album more original. A track called “Raisans” nearly jumps off the CD player with high energy and enough melody to deserve some airplay on alternative rock stations. I found both the cryptic love lyrics and Violent Femmes sounding vibe on “In a Jar” both a compelling read and a great listen. This outing is agreeably capped off by a high octane cover version of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” that I much prefer to the original. The roaring guitar solo, reverb laden sound effects and creative arrangement exhibit the bands ability to be creative while sounding like they were having a blast.
Dinosaur Jr. followed up with Bug in 1988, which is more polished than the previous two records comparatively, falls short in the area of unbridled exuberance. “Freak Scene,” a song that sounds like a distant cousin to something the Replacements might have written is a solid opener. “Yeah We Know” is also a well crafted rocker that is enhanced by rolling tom-tom grooves and syncopated guitar riffs. Beyond that, I did not find this third outing particularly engaging.
Merge Records is a quality indie label with a discerning ear for new talent. The recent success of the critically acclaimed Arcade Fire is a shining example of their knack for promoting new music. Additionally, journeyman groups like American Music Club and Dinosaur Jr. are finding a home for their music. With the release of three vintage records by aforementioned prehistoric critters, it is understandable to see why they once ruled the earth; or at least the indie world.