Dinosaur Jr.‘s J. Mascis has always been unfairly pegged. Because of his extremely reticent off-stage persona, critics have often seen Mascis’s music, or at least his vocal delivery, as following in the same ilk. Merge’s reissues of the first three Dinosaur records are occasion to re-examine this charge, and a celebration of an exciting moment in rock ‘n’ roll history that the band helped to create.
You’re Living All Over Me, the most exciting and coherent of the three reissues, is a study (if there could be such a thing) in guitar rock abandon. Hearing it again after many years, it still sounds like a recording made just for one. That “one” being whomever happens to be listening at the time. It gives off the feeling that you’re not listening to a record, per se, but rather have stumbled into the practice space of the best unknown guitar band in the world. They don’t know you’re there, so they just keep playing with everything they are. That sort of sincerity is present on this CD (and on Dinosaur and Bug) and it’s one of the details that seems to be harder and harder to find. Even as the Internet offers an entirely undreamed-of world of vast numbers and immediate gratification of music recordings, it also disappoints a bit with its sheer volume. Everyone is self-promoting. These Dinosaur Jr. reissues bring us back to an age when three guys kicked off work, spent all their free time practicing, and someone else thought they were good enough to record. (Sure, this is a bit of a romanticization, but let’s go with it in this age of MySpace and blogs.) You’re Living All Over Me breathes with the notion that music may be all that matters, from the truly awesome guitar work that steals (and then breaks) from Black Sabbath and then provides a blueprint for a little group called My Bloody Valentine to the melodies that sneak up and surprise amidst the noise to the seemingly devil-may-care sequencing which works because it seems to say, “Just listen to the songs. It’s all about the songs”.
But back to the voice for a moment. J. Mascis yearns on this record, and it is audible. In future recordings, he will draw inward (although not as much as he has been accused of), but You’re Living captures a guy who sounds always on the cusp of a broken heart. He sings like the type of person who, when things are going well, wonders, “When will this all end?” Moreover, the music provides an incredible emotional urgency, the kind that is palpable. Mascis’s guitar work cannot be underestimated, and Lou Barlow and Murph move things along in the slacker-who-cares fashion. You can pick pieces out of songs that influenced not just bands, but years of bands. The first ten seconds of “The Lung” contain a simple guitar part that will be copped and made into an entire genre. Lou Barlow’s “Lose” and “Poledo” showcase why he needed to leave and start Sebadoh, but also why it worked to have him provide such disparate sounds to Dinosaur Jr.—these two songs, sandwiched near the end, right before we get the ever-entertaining closing cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, add to the sincerity of the whole. You’re good enough and want to be in the band and have a couple of songs already written? No problem, you’re in. This also worked for the first part of Throwing Muses’ career, and continues to be a boon within Sonic Youth. Democracy plays out, and the listener gets some music that may lack a singular vision, but makes up for it in humanity.
This isn’t one of those reissues that needs to be reviewed as if new. If you care about rock ‘n’ roll (and are of a certain age), you already have this or have always meant to get it. This is a reissue that serves as a living marker of music history. It’s important because it manages to both capture a time and exist beyond it. You’re Living All Over Me is not a nostalgic listen. It remains thought-provoking, relevant, and it rocks like there is no alternative but to do so in order to survive in this world.