It all happened so quickly. Rumors of the least-likely reunion in underground rock history soon turned into a confirmed one-off show, then into a full-blown tour and eventually news of new material and then – gasp! – enough material to fill a record. And now we have Beyond, the first LP from the original Dinosaur trio since 1988’s Bug, the work of a group with nothing left to prove and even less to lose.
I’m happy to report that the tiny little hang-ups you could bring to Beyond – tarnishing a pristine legend, monetary motivations – quickly fly out the window with the bombastically catchy opener and lead single “Almost Ready”. Lou, J., and Murph sound as crisp and important as ever, just not as immediately visceral as on their SST classics. Gone are the sheets of eardrum-shattering guitar and jagged, post-hardcore-on-acid writing, in its place a batch of direct rock tunes played with veteran maturity and sung with more heart than any band half their age. Strangely, the sound and look of Dinosaur Jr. sticks out more today than it did 20 years ago, awesomely retro album art and old-school shoes included.
It’s not surprising that the quality of writing throughout Beyond is so consistent, as Mascis has really never released any bad material. Since Lou Barlow’s departure he and Murph have soldiered on through numerous good to great albums, the last of which, Masics’ More Light, containing some of his freshest ideas since Green Mind, the first post-Barlow LP and last truly great Dinosaur Jr. album. What really blows me away here are Barlow’s two contributions, the throbbing and writhing “Back To Your Heart” and the tense, climactic “Lightning Bulb” (check Murph’s work here, too, and tell me he’s not the most underrated drummer of the past quarter-century). Both songs are absolute stunners, without a doubt the two best songs he’s done in over 10 years and quite possibly Beyond‘s highest points. Lou’s two are worth the price of admission alone, but it’s clear that he and J. each brought their a-game to the court.
At nearly 50 minutes, Beyond could benefit from a little trimming (I’d have made “This Is All I Came To Do” a B-side), and by the sound of it, you’d probably be safe to say that Mascis is still writing some of the bass parts. The trio doesn’t gel on all levels as it once did and there’s also a distinct lack of arranging besides the core of each song. But these are all minor quibbles that should in no way betray old fans nor detract new ones from joining the club. And really, who wants to hear 40-something men acting like they’re 20? That’s lame. Beyond is a success on all levels and proof that not all reunions are done with green in mind.