Album Review: Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky

[Jagjaguwar; 2012]

What has spawned this late career resurgence in the life of our Dinosaur Jr. family unit? Back in 1989, Mom and Dad split, leaving little Bug and big bro You’re Living All Over Me to fend for themselves (good kids those two). In the intermittent years Dad’s seen other people and spawned various other offspring that never really measured up — though they do have their relative merits — and Mom’s cut out a path from her own, free from Dad’s shadow, to shine in her own right as a parent. I mean, legend has it, Dad never really appreciated Mom’s contributions to their family unit, taking control for himself and leaving Mom out of the process. It’s all heartbreaking really, especially for the children, but as we know, in 2006 (just when Bug and YLOAM were getting ready to head off to college) Mom and Dad got back together. Reunited and it felt so good.

As far as indie rock second chances go, there’s really no better model than the reunion of the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup. With their reconciled professional relationship J Mascis and Lou Barlow have, at age 46, rubbed off on each other in all the right ways–spawning some of the best written songs of either of their illustrious and diversified careers. I mean, listen to “Back To Your Heart” and tell me that isn’t one of Barlow’s best since Sebadoh’s heyday. Listen to the solo that gashes the opening of “Almost Ready” and tell me that having Lou and Murph back around hasn’t brought Mascis out of a bout of late career complacency.

Well, here we are another time around the carousel, and this run isn’t much different from the last. You have, in I Bet On Sky all the hallmarks of a Dinosaur Jr. release: the Big Muff’d guitars, the flailing solos, the taut drum fills. Everything in it’s right place. If 2009’s Farm and it’s direct antecedent, Beyond, were the sounds of a band triumphantly reunited, I Bet On Sky is the sound of that same band trudging ahead, refusing to change course.

“Watch The Corners,” our first taste of the record and settled smoothly into the second slot here, is classic Mascis. Slow chugging guitars build to sweetly mumbled chorus builds to acoustic breakdown builds to searingly melodic guitar sol. It’s paint-by-numbers Dinosaur Jr., but even knowing that, knowing the history of the 100+ songs that precede it in the Mascis pantheon, it’s hard to not to lose yourself in the hooky malaise. So it continues for the rest of the record, “Stick A Toe” is “Blowing It” from Green Mind is “Over Your Shoulder” from Without A Sound is “This Is All I Came To Do” from Beyond is Plans from Farm. It’s your midtempo dragging rocker, chiming guitar parts building slowly to a solo that tears the veil at the end. It’s a striking statement in the context of I Bet On Sky–an interesting counterpoint on a record largely marked by barnburners. But I mean, it’s a standard Dinosaur Jr. trick, can we even fault them?

It’s formulaic Dinosaur Jr., but it’s still Dinosaur Jr. You have your Barlow songs (“Rude” and “Recognition”), which largely live up to Mascis’ contributions, even if they don’t reach the heights of recent Barlow efforts — with Dinosaur Jr. or otherwise. It’s the kind of record that leaves you puzzled. It’s a Dinosaur Jr. album. It’s perhaps the most Dinosaur Jr.-y Dinosaur Jr. album that they’ve released to date, and you can’t really fault them for that fact. Even if the highs aren’t as high, like the rest of the reunited lineup’s work, there really aren’t any noticeable lows. I mean, Mom and Dad are back together, that’s reason for celebrating enough. Isn’t it?