Where you going?
Where You Been, the 1993 album from noise-rock pioneers Dinosaur Jr, held the promise of great things to come. "Start Choppin," "On The Way," and "Get Me" combined the band's trademark fuzzed-out guitar skronk with tight arrangements and solid songwriting. Singer-guitarist J Mascis still wielded distortion as a weapon, but he picked his spots, letting a song stand on its own instead of degenerating into a lengthy bout of guitar squall. His voice alternated between an in-need-of-coffee-and-smokes croak and a winsome falsetto, showing a passion not heard on previous albums.
Unfortunately, Where You Been wasn't a harbinger of greatness, but a reminder of what could have been. 1994's Without A Sound, the band's biggest commercial success, is not a bad album--just unremarkable. Without is much slicker, toning down Mascis' indie-rock guitar heroics even further, and stripping the songs of any sort of tension. Lyrically, he mines the same slacker territory as before, but the spark that marked his black-and-white vocal approach on Where is completely absent, making him seem almost a parody of himself. The result is an album that faithfully lives up to its name.
Hand It Over, Dinosaur Jr's latest effort, follows much the same path. Mascis seems lost in a world no longer filled with the guitar shrapnel he once created. His songs don't grab the listener they way they once did, shrouding pure pop melodies in a velvety curtain of feedback. Now that the curtain has been pulled back, the tunes are far less interesting. Without his trusty distortion pedal working overtime, Mascis is revealed to be a fairly average guitar player, and his vocals remain mired in the same ordinary malaise that marked Without. The band musters the old magic on the few cuts (most notably "I'm Insane") that stand out, but overall, the album is yet another uninspired effort from Mascis and the band. Hand it over, J.
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Dinosaur Jr plays Trees on Saturday, October 25.