Dinosaur Jr. Dinosaur Jr.I Bet On Sky
In 1989, after three astonishing, distortion-drizzled albums, J Mascis dumped Lou Barlow. The latter responded accordingly: a string of vengeful break-up songs and a healthy dose of bitter bitching (in one wonderfully exacting interview with Steve Chick, Barlow concluded “rock and roll was about a bunch of ambivalent people getting together, hating each other and playing loud, nasty, hateful music”). Murph stuck with Mascis for a few years before making a similarly dysfunctional departure, allegedly referring to his frontman as an “asshole”, a “dick” and a “Nazi”.
Thirty years on and somewhat unexpectedly, they are now seven years and three LPs into a celebrated reunion; albeit a suitably factious one. Whilst the first two releases were characterised by the fall-out of collision – buoyed by clouds of blistering noise – here the debris has settled and we are afforded a glimpse behind the dust. “I Bet On Sky” is Dinosaur Jr.’s cleanest sounding album in years.
The opening track, “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know”, plays their current sonic-clarity to its full advantage. The driving guitars and muscular drum-line propel the track towards a soaring, synth fuelled chorus. The melodic lines weave through each other like starlings over water; swooping towards a shimmering pool of nostalgia, only to turn their attention skywards, moments before their beaks break the surface of sentimentality.
Similarly, “Watch The Corners” is a near perfect slice of fuzz-drenched pop, with a melody the sticks in your teeth for days. Its slacker-core motifs draw you in. Remember when we used to shoot the shit behind the bleachers? The time we got drunk on peach schnapps and crashed the prom? Me either, but Dinosaur Jr. are quick to convince you otherwise.
However, whilst “Bet The Sky” boasts many note-worthy highlights (including the swaggering punk of “Pierce The Morning Rain” and Barlow’s cantering, gloriously neurotic “Rode”), a number of its tracks do not reach the heady heights of the aforementioned. The album loses momentum, for example, with the meandering “ I Know It Oh So Well” whilst “What Was That” verges on the indulgently insipid.
Never-the-less “I Bet The Sky” is a triumphant addition to Dinosaur Jr.’s commended return; an accolade underscored by the ear-bleeding country closer “See It On Your Side”. Here the trio jostle for attention in a rivalry that spurs rather than suffocates. An assertive rhythm section grounds the swirling, grunge-tinged guitars, whilst the mumbling vocals belie an engaging fallibility. After an extended guitar solo (come on! It’s J!) the track retreats into feedback on the upswing. All lines are dropped unresolved, leaving the listener suspended mid-flight; eager for the journey to continue, however treacherous the terrain.