Tuesday 18 September 2012

Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet On Sky

Album review by KevW

They started out calling themselves Dinosaur (before a legal challenge forced an alteration) nearly thirty years ago, now, with slightly larger waistlines and J Mascis' famous locks silvering with maturity, the 'Jr.' part of their name seems more superfluous than ever. As fully fledged dinosaurs of the US alt-rock scene, born out of the 80s and flourishing in the early 90s, Dinosaur Jr. are one of the few bands of that ilk to have survived (after a few years' hiatus) with credibility intact. Their reformation didn't feel like unfinished business (The Stone Roses), a trip down memory lane (Blur, Pulp) or a shamless cash-in (At The Drive-In), it had the feel of a continuation. A break to ease the pressure valves of the band, let water pass under the bridge and personal gripes be forgotten. Five years on from the first album of Dinosaur Jr., chapter two, and we find them on some of the best form they've ever been in.

There's little change in style, this is their classic sound which always sat somewhere between the proto-grunge of bands like Pixies and the earnest, overly serious rock of Stone Temple Pilots or Soundgarden. The difference here is that the band seem to be cruising, effortlessly making their music seem as vital as ever and their contemporaries look old hat, desperate even. There are few guitarists out there who can work a fretboard like this, adding extended solos at will, and get away without sounding like a dick, but when Mascis lays his wailing, screaming guitar across these songs it sounds truly majestic. Even the six-and-a-half minute 'See It On Your Side' dodges the hideous wankery of Steve Vai or Joe Satriani, instead channelling that other great master of wandering, protracted six-string abuse - Neil Young. The reason Dinosaur Jr. became so revered and have continued to draw plaudits is down to this appeal. Fans of straight-edged rock can appreciate them, and us fans of more alternative sounds and melodic pop songs aren't left wanting either.

The scratchy opener 'Don't Pretend You Didn't Know' is a perfect example of how they make this work, yet better songs follow. The chugging intro to 'Watch The Corners' tricks you into thinking they're heading for a metal epic, but then that harmonious guitar lights up the song like a rainbow, adding colour to the darkness. It's the plodding and melodic 'Almost Fare' that provides more satisfaction, and Lou Barlow's 'Rude' marks itself out as potential single material, along with the harder 'Pierce The Morning Rain' with that trademark squalling solo. 'I Know It Oh So Well' and 'What Was That' are both buoyed by the same legendary guitar work, and although some may wish they just rock the hell out, it's the restraint and knack with a melody that have been the band's driving force for decades and have provided their most memorable songs, just as they do here. There's a strong possibility that in a few years time when the dust has settled, 'I Bet On Sky' will be considered a match for any other album of their career.

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