By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
YOU CAN ALMOST picture our ol' pal Joseph Mascis as he stands at the door of the recording studio before entering to record this, Dinosaur Jr.'s ninth album since 1985. He grabs the handle with some reluctance, knowing deep down inside that he has absolutely nothing to say. An astute student of rock history, he pauses and considers how all of his favorite albums have been the result of artists who are virtually exploding with passion or pain--who feel that they absolutely must record or die. It's been so long since he felt that way that he's not even sure that he ever did. But then another thought crosses his mind: "What on earth would I do if I stopped making albums?" The prospects are too frightening for him to even consider, so you better believe that he hustles his butt inside toots sweet.
Herein lies the problem with Hand It Over: Mascis doesn't care anymore, so why the hell should we? His initial contribution to indie/alternative whatsis--resurrecting the dreaded cult of the guitar god--was slim to begin with: He could never sing or write lyrics worth a damn, and if you really paid attention, his much-ballyhooed guitar thrashing wasn't that great either. Granted, he occasionally roused himself from his terminal couch-potato slackerdom to produce a rousing, rollicking tune like "Freak Scene," "Bug," or "Little Furry Things." But mostly he just built massive walls of noise that he and his fellow social misfits could cower behind rather than having to interact with the outside world.
In the past few years, Mascis has made stumbling moves toward civilization. He wrote the faux Pet Sounds tunes that Matt Dillon lip-synched in the abysmal film Grace of My Heart, and he made the embarrassingly bad Martin + Me during a 1995 acoustic tour during which he tried to reinvent himself as alternative rock's James Taylor. Hand It Over is being trumpeted as his triumphant return to guitar chaos--as if that's an accomplishment in 1997--but with new songs such as "I Don't Think" (no kidding) and "Nothin's Goin On" (ditto), he sounds as if he's just going through the motions. Nearly everything here was done better on 1987's You're Living All Over Me and 1988's Bug. The twist is supposed to be that this time, the walls of noise are decorated with snatches of Mellotron, a toy that Mascis acquired because everybody in indie rock had to have one in 1996. Plus, there's some goofy banjo-pickin' on "Gettin Rough," and Kevin Shields makes some cameo appearances on backing vocals. (The leader of My Bloody Valentine, Shields is the only person in rock lazier than Mascis: He's been locked up in his home studio trying to follow up Loveless since 1991.)
If you ask me, these are pretty narrow hooks on which to hang a continuing career, and like it or not, I suspect that Mascis is going to have to deal with the question of what he does next sooner rather than later. Hey, J, it's not so bad, working for living. You'd be the perfect surly and silent clerk in a record or comics shop. The people who man the toll booths on the Massachusetts 'pike get to listen to music all day and be consistently rude to motorists as they collect their coins. And there's always the post office. So who says there's no life after Dinosaur Jr.?