Dinosaur Jr. – Ear Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr.

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Dinosaur Jr. was part of a lively New England scene in the late 1980s and 1990s. Along with Dino Jr. there were the Pixies, Throwing Muses, Buffalo Tom, Belly, the Lemonheads, Galaxie 500, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Come, Damon & Naomi, and Gigolo Aunts, to say nothing of earlier bands like the Cars and the Modern Lovers. And, a fact often overlooked, the Magnetic Fields also came from the Boston area.

What I Think of This Album

It’s fairly simple and straightforward:  I think this is a good comp because it contains a lot of Dinosaur Jr. songs I like and not too many that I don’t. The focus is on the major label era with a full twelve songs out of nineteen coming from that period, compared to only five songs from the first three albums. The inclusion of a post-Dinosaur Jr. track is inexplicable and renders the title of the compilation a lie.

While there is not much early material, the selections are mostly pretty good. Such generous acknowledment aside, “Repulsion” is a song I don’t enjoy even a little; “Little Fury Things” is considerably more tolerable, with at least an interesting distorted wah-wah intro and some compelling dynamic shifts, though the melody is still underdeveloped. I detect a country element to the beginning of “In A Jar,” which somehow meshes with a Cure-like bass part, and the solo is enjoyably noisy.

“Freak Scene” is mind-blowing and gave ample notice of what Mascis was capable of – an infectious melody, a mix of guitars that range from brutal to clean/reverby strums, a fantastic solo, strategic harnessing of his voice, and hilariously forlorn lyrics (“Sometimes I don’t thrill you / Sometimes I think I’ll kill you / Just don’t let me fuck up will you / ‘Cause when I need a friend it’s still you”), with the concluding acknowledgement “what a mess” delivered in perfect resignation. After that, “Budge” is a letdown, sounding like very basic thrash enlivened with hints of melody.

The major label material is where this comp shines. “The Wagon” takes all the elements of “Freak Scene” and succeeds almost as well; the solo is phenomenal and the drums during the bridge will shake your neighbor’s tooth fillings loose. Don Fleming (producer of Teenage Fanclub and very short-term member of Dino Jr.) plays guitar on this and “Thumb.” That latter song, sporting mellotron by co-producer Sean Slade, is a sort of plodding, half-hearted piece. “Whatever’s Cool With Me” may boast the best title of any Dinosaur Jr. song (an apparent embrace of the not-always-accurate slacker tag attached to Mascis); as a song, it is pretty good (almost great), though I can’t say it’s a favorite and the solo leaves me cold.

Much more impressive is “Not You Again,” with Mascis making magic on the guitar and stumbling over his laconic vocals against a winning melody. Where You Been is the first album (the band’s fifth) from which more than two tracks are derived, which seems a little strange. “Out There” is sort of somber and grey, and the guitars are a bit much, honestly. “Start Choppin” is an absolutely ridiculous song – there’s no way that falsetto isn’t a middle finger to the critics of his singing – but it’s also a classic Dino Jr. song for a reason. The skittery riff is pure early ‘90s alterna-gold, the solos kick ass, the drums are monstrous, and the delivery (falsetto and all) is perfect. “Get Me” is a thick milkshake of ‘90s alterna-rock, and that’s not really a criticism.

The comp wisely selects the two best tracks from Without A Sound:  the slightly repetitive “Feel the Pain” and the countryish “I Don’t Think So” (with vocals from My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher). The two tracks from Hand It Over – “Nuthin’s Goin On” and “I’m Insane” are the right selections; nuthin to complain about there.

The disc also contains two non-Dinosaur Jr. tracks, one being a more justifiable inclusion than the other, both artistically and logically. “Take A Run At the Sun” was a song J Mascis wrote for the soundtrack to Grace of My Heart, and this delectable slice of sunny Beach Boys pop (though with a foreboding theremin part) is as impressive as it is surprising, and also happens to have been written and released while Dinosaur Jr. was still a going concern (in between Without A Sound and Hand It Over). In contrast, “Where’d You Go” is from the post-breakup J Mascis + The Fog project; this song is sort of paint-by-numbers, but if I’m being fair, it’s not a bad song. The truncated cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” was supposedly sincere; the guitar tones Mascis chooses are great.

The producers whose work is found here include Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie. The liner notes from indie rock scribe Byron Coley provide an effective biography of the band. In a roundabout way, J Mascis + The Fog led to the Stooges reunion in 2003 – look it up.

The Best Thing About This Album

“It’s so fucked I can’t believe it” – “Freak Scene” is a masterpiece.

Release Date

October, 2001

The Cover Art

This is one of my favorite covers of all time. The drawings by professional skateboarder Neil Blender (who also did the art for Without A Sound) perfectly evoke the reckless abandon, awe inspiring beauty, and jaw-dropping skill of the best Dinosaur Jr. songs.

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