Dinosaur Jr. – Hand It Over

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Dinosaur Jr. is one of those bands that I feel guilty about not liking more. It’s as if I am worried that someone is going to expose me for insufficient indie credentials. On the other hand, I like what I like and I’m not about to apologize for it. There are a lot of Dino Jr. songs I like, it’s just that they’re spread out over a lot of albums. For the most part, the three “classic line-up” albums are too hard and noisy for me in general, and the slacker, solo-in-all-but-name major label discs I think are very inconsistent (except for this one). And that marked the end of Dinosaur Jr. until the surprise reunion of 2007, which continues fruitfully to this day (I have only listened to a few of those albums, and they are okay). The band formed in 1984 in Amherst, Massachusetts and took the name Dinosaur. The trio released a self-titled debut and then second album You’re Living All Over Me, at which point 60’s supergroup (okaaayyy) The Dinosaurs called their lawyers, and shortly thereafter Dinosaur Jr. was born. One more album was realized before J Mascis’s control freak tendencies led to the firing of bassist Lou Barlow (whose songs I have always hated, I should note). And while the four major label albums that followed didn’t turn Mascis into a star, it should be noted that the shy frontman who hid behind a sheet of hair and a wall of noise almost certainly never wanted fame and fortune anyway.

What I Think of This Album

At its best, this thing fucking rocks. It has one of my favorite Dino Jr. songs in “Nothin’s Goin On,” and that is followed by the unusual but extremely enjoyable baroque rock of “I’m Insane.” Leading up to those tunes to complete a stellar opening quartet are the My Bloody Valentine-influenced “I Don’t Think” and “Never Bought It.” I think the album sags in the middle, though some people love “Alone.” But things rapidly improve with “Mick,” “I Know Yer Insane,” and “Gettin Rough.” My only complaint with the album is really that Mascis – who plays his original instrument, the drums, here – is way too busy behind the kit.

The shoegaze element is most pronounced on opening track “I Don’t Think,” which doesn’t not sound like Dinosaur Jr., to be sure, but it has a more dreamy quality than Mascis attempted before. Of course, that’s not what strikes you as the opening guitars pummel and Mascis unleashes his whine, but as the song makes its way to the chorus (with barely-there backing vocals from Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields), it takes on a smoothness and sonic cohesion that seems novel. The punishing guitar intro of “Never Bought It” is a fake out, as Mellotron flutes take over what becomes a meandering, hazy song, also betraying the influence of co-producer Shields, perhaps. The solo is excellent, a demonstration of fully fledged Neil Young worship.

The sheer majesty of “Nothin’s Going On” cannot be overstated. The melody is first rate, and Mascis’s guitars are fantastic, with little squalls and fills here and there, as well as a flanged bit that almost makes the song by itself; the solo is almost too heavy to fit in comfortably but it works, especially at the end with a quick flurry of harmonics (I believe), as it shoves you back to the chorus and the phaser/flanger becomes more pronounced. Out of nowhere, a trumpet appears on “I’m Insane,” heralding a brave new world for Mascis, who delivers a wonderful, weird conglomeration of brass, drums, and guitar that ends up sounding nothing like how it started.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with “Can’t We Move This,” but it doesn’t do much for me, though I appreciate the strings on it. I have zero idea why “Alone” is regarded as the unsung Dinosaur Jr. masterpiece, because I really never need to hear this again – the vocals (and I generally like Mascis’s voice) are awful, and the tempo plods along for eight minutes; some of the guitar work I like, but most is uninspired and tuneless. The two songs that follow also sort of go nowhere.

“Mick,” though, is a more or less clean pop song – you could almost imagine the Lemonheads doing this (except for the solo) – with Mascis’s vocals modulating from laconic to almost manic for a second. Mascis drops another underrated song with “I Know Yer Insane.” A banjo is the stringed instrument of choice on the short and surprising “Gettin Rough.”

An alternate view of this album is that it is the release that best highlights Mascis’s flexibility and creativity as a songwriter.

The Best Thing About This Album

The guitar sound on “Nothin’s Goin On” makes me simultaneously want to play the guitar and also never pick up a guitar.

Release Date

March, 1997

The Cover Art

I mean, I think this is awful. Laughably terrible. I do like the purple. This is by Maura Jasper, who did the art for a number of Dino Jr. releases, including the debut, Bug, and You’re Living All Over Me.

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