Laconic, guitar-heavy masterpiece from Dinosaur Jr.’s second-wind.
Stevie Chick 2011
Following the legendarily acrimonious bust-up between singer/guitarist J Mascis and bassist/singer Lou Barlow, Dinosaur Jr. were a different band altogether. Their first three albums had stirred hardcore, psychedelia, noise, country and metal into a blurry and glorious mess of sludge-pop, switching from melody to noise with the stomp of a pedal. Barlow’s exit, to form lo-fi bards Sebadoh, was followed by a contract with major label imprint Blanco Y Negro, and a fourth album (1991’s Green Mind) that sired an unlikely underground hit in The Wagon. But the group seemed adrift, enough so that Mascis seriously considering quitting to play drums with an unknown Seattle group called Nirvana.
He didn’t, of course, and after Nirvana’s Nevermind went supernova, many looked to Dinosaur Jr. to follow them into the big-time; after all, their 1988 single Freak Scene coined the quiet/loud dynamic Smells Like Teen Spirit would later ride to phenomenal success. Released as grunge was at its height, 1993’s Where You Been hazily evaded any Nirvana-esque commercial crossover (it peaked at number 50 in the Billboard charts), but was a ragged masterpiece that found a fine new voice for the band.
There was something unabashedly classic about Where You Been’s rock, deriving not least from Mascis’s copious guitar heroics, layering multiple tracks of scree and howl so the entire album feels like one epic, sky-scraping solo. Out There opened the album with enough overdriven squalling and riffing to excite the teens in the Pearl Jam t-shirts, but Where You Been’s charms lay more in the lazy melodic drawl of Mascis’ songcraft: the lilting Start Choppin’, the breezy What Else Is New?, the winsomely aching Goin’ Home. With his fondness for extended guitar-play, his country-soaked rock crunch, his cracked and sweet vocals, Where You Been identified Mascis as hewn from the same stone as Neil Young before him.
There were still moments of punked-up fury to set the moshpit alight: On the Way a slamdance immolated by howling, roaring guitar, Hide a desperate dash illuminated by passages of Sonic Youth-esque skronk. But Where You Been’s best moments were more considered: Not the Same – all windswept mourn, strings and tympani and Mascis’ affecting whine achieving a moving drama Billy Corgan would later imitate with The Smashing Pumpkins’ Disarm – and Get Me, the album’s standout, a simple but perfect country strum sent into the heavens by wave after wave of wracked, ecstatic guitar soloing that lent grand emotional erudition to Mascis’ mush-mouthed mumbling. The second chapter of Dinosaur Jr.’s career was decidedly back on track.