Dinosaur Jr. made their name by reinventing hard-core punk as revved-up classic rock, an ingenious act of savvy contrarianism that was a key element in the alternative rock explosion of the early '90s. In part, it was their personalities that made them interesting. The bitter personal conflict between guitarist J. Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow gave their performances a thrilling fury until the band broke up in a storm of childish acrimony in 1989, just to be almost immediately re-formed as a J. Mascis project.
Now, nearly two decades later, Barlow and Mascis are reunited with drummer Patrick Murphy for Beyond. It's about as good as could be expected. Though the trio are not as nimble as they once were, midtempo is a cozy place for them and, as usual, Mascis is effective. “This Is All I Came To Do” and “We're Not Alone” provide good examples of the charmingly casual guitar lines at which he excels, while “It's Me” translates Dinosaur's legendary volume into sonic weight and density. Best of all, “Crumble” combines these two strengths, using a classic Mascis riff to set off the song's roaring chorus.
The bad news is that Beyond has two big faults. The first is that Mascis has been recording the same two or three songs for the past 15 years, and Beyond, having more in common with post-grunge-era Mascis than with classic Dinosaur, is no exception. The second is that the fire that illuminated the band's early work is absent. Understandably, after 15 years apart, Murphy doesn't play as well with Mascis as Mascis does (in addition to guitar, Mascis plays drums on his own recordings). Barlow's bass is often barely audible, a stark contrast to his almost insolent presence on the band's '80s albums. The song for which these criticisms are least true is Barlow's “Lightning Bulb,” which burns with an intensity that is largely missing from Beyond. Compared to the rest of the album, “Lightning Bulb” is almost cruel, teasing fans but not satisfying them. Daniel Mee
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