What a Mess, What a Band: Swervedriver's Adam Franklin on Dinosaur Jr
Posted by Adam Franklin, Wed 17 Jun 2009
I remember J Mascis being asked in an interview what his inspiration was when it came to making records and he said something like "I just wanna make records that I would wanna listen to".
The first Dinosaur Jr record I ever heard was You're Living All Over Me in 1987 and it was a revelation. I'm not sure who first got a hold of it but it became a staple round ours that summer. Sonic Youth had just released Sister which was their most rocking album to date and these bands became the two that really mattered.
The album seemed to free up many contrasting aspects of rock in the 1980s - it had big, noisy, melodic guitar solos for starters, but also neat melodies and arrangements. It had a kind of post-punk Cure-ish quality but it rocked like a metal record. It was vaguely Neil Young-esque in the little bursts of country-ish guitars and the disembodied, quietly sung vocal style that contrasted with the obvious volume of the amps at the time of recording. Sections of sheer noise loiter under and over parts of some of the songs. There's mental institution howling going on in the background! I thought it sounded very much like Hüsker Dü at first but then it started to sound crazier, more unhinged.
Before Dinosaur, it had always seemed like a case of never-the-twain-shall-meet. If you were a noisy, punky band you couldn't be melodic because that would be too weedy, or if you were a melodic, jangly band you couldn't have heavy guitars because that would be too rock. And punk bands weren't allowed to play solos! (even though Black Flag had kind of gone jazz). Dinosaur arrived and blew all four of the barn walls down and that whole melodic-but-heavy thing became the sound to search out - somebody would come back with a record by Das Damen or The Lemonheads; Band of Susans or Dumptruck. Nothing quite like Dinosaur though.
Freak Scene came next and just might have been the last great seven inch single. It came out in 1988 with CDs just around the corner but when people were still buying vinyl and it preceded the next album Bug. Freak Scene is a definitive guitar recording, much like Jimi Hendrix's All Along The Watchtower. The Hendrix recording moves through acoustic guitars, electric lead, wah wah, slide. Freak Scene kicks off with clanging electric rhythm chords and effortlessly switches to the hardcore chug chords, back out through acoustic jazzy chords and into that distinctive fucked-up, melodic lead guitar mangling.
Lyrically, things don't so much jump out but seep into yr head. There's "rubble to sift through", tarpits, raisans, sludgefeasts, fossils. It's all very prehistoric. But then there's just messed up relationship stuff - "It's only everything standing in front of me"; "She's my post to lean on / And I just cut her down"; "The wind that blows between us / Anyone can tell to see us"; "Hey babe / Can't do it / Can't put you there again"; "Trying to picture me with you / Hope we can feel enough for two"; "Sometimes I don't thrill you / Sometimes I think I'll kill you / Just don't let me fuck up will you? / Cuz when I need a friend it's still you".
We went up to London to the old Mean Fiddler in Harlesden and it was Sonic Youth headlining and Dinosaur Jr on first. We leant over the balcony looking down at the stage, checking out the amps and guitars and then they came on and were the loudest thing EVER. And they had a great swing too that has defined indie rock - the way the bass and drums interlock and the guitar strums. My Bloody Valentine's sound changed in the wake of Dinosaur.
And God bless whoever The Dinosaurs were because Dinosaur Jr, a name forced on them, somehow sums them up, kind of goofy but damn heavy. You've also gotta love how, after all those years, their comeback record - superbly recorded by the lovely gent that is John Agnello - was titled Almost Ready.
What a mess, what a band.