Dinosaur Jr.

Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr.

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The conventional wisdom on Dinosaur Jr. is focused almost entirely on their sonics, which admittedly were devastating and influential. Other bands had never relinquished the force of electric guitars -- Hüsker Dü were a galvanizing force, Sonic Youth reaffirmed that sheer noise had poetic power -- but Dinosaur, through their laconic frontman, J Mascis, restored not just the idea of a guitar hero, but showed that underground rock could soar with the eloquence of a guitar hero, reeling from lovely leads to sheets of noise to tranquil chords. In their early days, they relied more on sheer, overwhelming power, which tended to overshadow Mascis' subtle songwriting -- something that came to the forefront when the group, shed of Lou Barlow, shifted to Sire early in the '90s, because that also brought cleaner, precise productions. Since Rhino's 2001 compilation Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr. concentrates the Sire recordings, it does wind up emphasizing his songwriting, yet since those songs were always graced with Dinosaur's sonic power and grace, it does provide an accurate summary of their career. And it provides a pretty tremendous listen in doing that. Some may argue that there's not enough Homestead or SST material here, and "Raisans" should have been here (along with Green Mind's "Puke + Cry," and possibly their cover of "Show Me the Way"), but this generous 19-track collection never sags in its momentum, never has a dull spot, and pulls off a tricky move -- it makes Mascis seem consistent, which latter-day Dinosaur Jr. were not necessarily. However, as this collection proves, Mascis never lost his touch and could still write terrific songs, even as late as the group's final album. But what really stands out here is the consistency of the work -- "Little Fury Things" and "Freak Scene" may be the benchmarks of underground '80s rock, but alt-rock standards like the straight cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," "Whatever's Cool With Me," "Start Choppin," "Get Me," "Feel the Pain," and the astonishing "The Wagon" are their equal, as is nearly every other song on this collection. And while the inclusion of "Where'd You Go," a cut by Mascis and his post-Dinosaur outfit, the Fog, is puzzling, "Take a Run at the Sun," a Beach Boys homage from the Grace of My Heart soundtrack that puts the High Llamas and R.E.M.'s latter-day efforts to shame, certainly isn't, since it illustrates that Mascis' genius is conscious. So, while there may be a couple of songs that maybe should have made the cut, what is here cements that Dinosaur Jr. are one of the great bands of their era, and it's a terrific listen, one of the best records in their catalog.

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