By: Matthew Schuler
It’s rare to find a great band whose sound stays stagnant through multiple decades of work. People mature, music evolves, influences come and go; these changes are accompanied by an ‘adapt or die’ mentality that tends to eat artists alive if they’re unwilling to mature. Dinosaur Jr has been an exception to this rule. Since their inaugural ‘Dinosaur’ in 1985, they followed a fairly simple formula: grinding, melodic guitar soaked in harsh reverb, powerful solos, and J. Mascis’ low, strained drawl. To their credit, it’s effective. At their best, they balance power and harmony in a manner nearly unmatched by their peers. Through a run spanning 31 years, 11 studio albums and some 150 odd tracks, Mascis and crew haven’t missed a step in their musicianship. But something in the spirit and energy of the music seems to have dropped along the way.
Give a Glimpse opens on a decent note with ‘Goin Down’, a strong track driven by a short, crunchy guitar line and backed up with a simple and catchy refrain. It’s an enticing start to the album; however, the tracks that follow, such as ‘Tiny’ and ‘I Told Everyone’, stray little from the formula that Dinosaur molded for themselves. ‘Love is…’, featuring Lou Barlow rather than Mascis on vocals offers a rare break from the monotony. His voice seems a much better fit for the slower, more melodic music that the band has been producing in their modern iteration. ‘I Walk for Miles’, the closest return to their late 80’s form, is anchored by a guitar solo from Mascis that rivals the best in their catalog, and marks a high point for the album. But soon enough, we are return to dull formula that becomes all too familiar over ‘Give a Glimpse’s’ 46 minute runtime with ‘Lost All Day’, completely killing the momentum they had been building. Mascis’ question “Oh baby, what went wrong?” seems to answer itself here. That energy does not return before the end of the album. The closer, ‘Left/Right’ isn’t bad by any means – it is another example of how Lou Barlow is underused in Dinosaur’s modern work – but in the end there just aren’t enough satisfying or memorable moments to hold my attention through the whole project.
Give a Glimpse isn’t horrible by any means, but coming from a band that made You’re Living All Over Me, Bug, and Farm, it doesn’t hold up. They can still play, but the repetitive, song structure they have clung to just doesn’t mesh with the softer, more melodic music they seem to want to make. Either they’ll have to find that old fire that drove Mascis and Barlow to fistfights onstage, or they’ll need to dig around for some new musical insight. They’re goin’ down right now, and that’s a worrying trend.