ike the barrage of reunions formed to bank on renewed interest in alt-rock nostalgia, Dinosaur Jr. has nothing to lose. All most of us ask for is a 90-minute show of greatest hits and some choice interviews shedding light on past “creative differences” or (fingers crossed) “future endeavors,” so expectations are even lower for a band whose original lineup split in a messy divorce, and have remained dormant (barely speaking in fact) for nearly two decades. Dormant though, might be too stringent a descriptor. Dinosaur Jr. is after all, the J. Mascis show, and he’s healthily maintained the legacy of the band. The trio of Dinosaur, You’re Living All Over Me, and Bug were essential to the germination of grunge or the punk aesthetic turned paisley, and Mascis was the closest thing the Lollapalooza generation had to a Hendrix.
But goddamn if Beyond doesn’t destroy in a myriad of ways other than its sheer addiction to volume. It can be argued that Mascis’s dalliances with the Fog were a return to form after years of thinning the sludge and tossing off a homogenized version of his former self (I’m looking at you, Without a Sound and Hand it Over), but instead of cohesive statements they felt more like excuses to add unexplored textures, invite friends in for help, and generally build an accomplished out-of-retirement album during off nights in the basement. Mascis has always been, sonically speaking, somewhat of a man-child, the teenage guitar prodigy that should be practicing piano but refuses to put down his Fender. And even if his placement of six-string freak-outs on Beyond is indulgent and at times myopic (he never was much of a team player), I could listen to him wail, carve, chip, bend, slash, and noodle for days on end.
“Pick Me Up” fluctuates between chugging metal riffs (the trio were just hardcore-loving heshers with Neil Young records) and soaring, lackadaisical melodies, before J. eventually swerves into a spiraling four-minute jam complete with symphonic prog finale. “Crumble” could have been cribbed from Green Mind, perfectly breezy and bittersweet, layered with warm drone and feedback waves, that serve as a modern reminder of how Dino Jr. were once My Bloody Valentine’s American counterparts. Were it 1997, “Been There All the Time” would be the hit, a tidy testament to Mascis’s ability to write enduring pop with bubblegum crunch. A shame his innocuous wake-n-bake drawl is an acquired taste, it’s truly the only element that keeps the album from escaping my initial reaction that this is simply an enjoyable hour of nostalgic time-travel.
But what about Barlow? After Bug he took the emotional luggage and scruffy charm of early Dinosaur Jr. with him and made a life as the eternal underdog. So, in essence, Beyond is just as much a revival of Sebadoh’s greatest triumphs as it is an encapsulating return of legends. “Back to Your Heart,” the obligatory peace pipe that most likely encouraged Lou to sign on, is a lumbering land-shanty swaying in Sebadoh’s patented melancholic optimism. Ambiguous if it’s a tale of revenge or a parable about realizing where he really got his bread and butter; proof that Bakesale was no slouch either.
Again, expectations were low, and despite Beyond’s tendency to feel like a career retrospective in spots, it contains plenty of songs that rival Mascis’s best work. Adding Barlow to the fold is just icing on the cake, made in short order to celebrate a pioneering sound and stave off the boredom of ripping through “Chunks” for the nth time on a never-ending tour. Longtime fans couldn’t ask for a better re-introduction, and a new generation of kids has a perfectly balanced portal through which to discover (this configuration of) Dinosaur Jr.’s flawless back catalogue.