Album Review: Dinosaur Jr. – Farm

[Jagjaguwar / PIAS; 2009]

Dinosaur Jr.’s late-career renaissance has been one of the more remarkable – and welcome – rock comebacks in recent memory, but it’s worth taking a moment and recalling further still just how improbable, unique and rewarding the group’s second go-round has been. Recall that this is a band who had already done the hard work necessary to ensure becoming both a cult favorite and legitimately great (in the sense that, over 20 years after 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me, no self-respecting indie rock geek would dare say they’d never heard Dinosaur Jr. – while fewer still would attempt to deny the band’s greatness). Even before 2007’s shocking return to form Beyond, Dinosaur Jr. had already produced one of the more influential catalogues of their generation. The aforementioned You’re Living All Over Me and its successor, 1988’s Bug are two of the most kick-ass, creative, and important records of the College Rock era. A slew of popular indie rock bands wouldn’t be here today if not for that remarkable 2-year run (I’m looking at you, Doug Martsch). Despite the fact that the group had undeniably lost its way before (temporarily) calling it quits in 1997, one could hardly blame the band for choosing to rest on its laurels, reuniting for the (relative) cash-grab of touring. Lord knows you’d struggle to find a better way to spend a weekend night than joining the freak scene, even if the scenesters had gotten a bit older.

But, of course, Dinosaur Jr. didn’t choose to reunite simply to trot out the same old (and beloved) songs from two decades ago. Instead, they re-burst out the gate with 2007’s Beyond, a record so surprisingly good that many were tempted to call it an anomaly. Well, is it a fluke if it happens twice? This year’s Farm, is at the least Beyond’s equal – another thoroughly satisfying, no-frills rock ‘n’ roll record . Like Beyond, Farm manages to sound so much like music from the band’s heyday, you might worry that you’re hearing Dinosaur Jr. do Dinosaur Jr. But, thankfully, also like Beyond, this record manages to avoid that pitfall through excellent playing and songwriting. As musicians, the band hasn’t lost even a half-step. J. Mascis in particular is in top form, mixing virtuoso playing with emotional intensity. In terms of songwriting, Farm’s first half is the strongest, with “I Want You to Know” and “Plans” being the standouts. But the best thing about Farm is its overall consistency. It’s an easy record to listen to front-to-back – nothing sounds out of place or demands patience, and every song has at least one hook, drum fill, or, more frequently, guitar lick that’ll keep you entertained.

The negative aspect of such consistency is the fact that while everything on Farm is good, nothing is remarkable (there’s nothing here that’s rivaling “Freak Scene” or “In a Jar”). And in truth, if we were to nitpick, this is the one fault with Dinosaur Jr.’s return – they’re making really good, solid rock music here; but nothing that blows you away. Of course, for many (myself included), this is in some way part of the charm – it’s comforting to put on a record that will give you exactly what you want, exactly the way you want. There are no surprises on Farm – least of which is its quality.