This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Dinosaur Jr. – “You’re Living All Over Me” (SST Records, 1987)

This month’s Classics Critiqued selection is considered by many fans and music critics to be an alternative rock classic that put Dinosaur Jr. (J. Mascis (guitar), Lou Barlow (bass) and Murph (drums) on the map and triggered their signing to a major label. “You’re Living All Over Me” and the band’s live shows influenced the shoegaze music scene in England and the American grunge scene in Seattle. Combining a melting pot of rock music genres including metal, hardcore, punk and noise rock and adding twist of Neil Young and a pop sensibility, the album created a fresh fusion from long established elements. In this article I discuss the album and its sound, initial impact and continuing legacy.

 “You’re Living All Over Me” was the band’s second album and follow-up to 1986’s “Dinosaur”, which was a spirited affair that hints at what was to come and contains none of the new melodic sound showcased on “You’re Living All Over Me”. By this point the band had developed their sound and became tighter through touring. The album arrived in 1987 as the US alternative rock scene shifted from the dominance of hardcore in the early 80s to both more experimental and more tuneful extremes. On the one hand Sonic Youth released “Sister” and Minutemen would bow out with “Ballot Result” while Husker Dü had released “Warehouse: Songs and Stories”, The Meat Puppets put out “Huevos” and Dinosaur Jr.’s closest peers the Pixies started their career with “Come On Pilgrim”. Dinosaur Jr. sat in between these two extremes taking the best elements from the two sides and fusing them together into something of their own.

“A brilliant, brutal hailstorm of hyper-distorted riffs and pulverizing basslines, it’s harder, louder and meaner than nine out of ten heavy metal albums. The multi-sectioned songs change direction so frequently that it’s hard to tell them apart, as the power-trio assault is modulated by graceful, looming melodies that rise like mist out of the pedal-mess”.

–          Trouserpress.com

What were the ingredients that went into Dinosaur Jr.’s melting pot? They combined the molten garage rock of “Funhouse” by The Stooges, the adolescent punk of The Ramones, the noise rock of early Sonic Youth, Neil Young style melodic country rock and Black Sabbath’s epic sludge filled metal. One of their closet contemporaries was Husker Dü who similarly combined punk’s energy with the classic rock influences that punk bands were supposed to shun. The difference between the two is that as Dinosaur Jr.’s sound developed they retained most of their punk edge. Many critics have spent a lot of time discussing the emotional content of the band’s material (more on that later) and I think it’s this that places the trio in a lineage of great adolescent pop-rock bands including The Stooges, The Ramones, Buzzcocks and Nirvana; maybe what separates Dinosaur Jr. is their earnestness.

“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”.

–          Pop Matters

Much has been made of Dinosaur Jr.’s slacker image and their dour subject matter. However, what is rarely picked up is the moments when their music temporarily surges up and sours creating (sonically at least) a feeling of uplift. Taking into consideration that the band members were barely out of their teens dealing with all the new problems life throws at young people, it’s not a surprise they often dealt with life’s more troubling emotions. The band were incredibly adept at expressing a range of emotions often simultaneously, who else could create songs like ‘Raisins’ which finds space to include “anger, arousal, depression and awkwardness” in a four minute song or ‘In A Jar’ which “displays the scepticism and paranoia of the socially downtrodden when a girl actually likes them”. Barlow takes things a step further on his two song writing credits: ‘Lose’ and ‘Poledo’ which total “nine minutes of pure, unadulterated self-loathing”. ‘Poledo’ is the odd one out on the album sounding like a prototype for what would be become Barlow’s new project Sebadoh. It combines a section of lo-fi ukulele with Barlow despairing over the top followed by “some Stockhausen-by-way-of-Fisher-Price pause-button edits.”  Elsewhere Mascis yearns like Neil Young, his voice caught in “a confused mess: emotionally disentangled yet intensely felt, indolent and passive yet capable of incredible fury and volume”. Dinosaur Jr. created the most directly personal and emotional music while their peers “My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth immersed their personal-political ambivalence in torrents of guitar noise; Butthole Surfers ran with scatological humour as expressive deflection; Spacemen 3 discovered gospel and the blues as a way of channelling their responses through pre-determined forms.”

“… Dinosaur are the sound of galvanised lethargy, vibrant despondency. Grey skies have seldom blazed so bright, surged so furiously.” – Simon Reynolds, Bring The Noise.

It was with “You’re Living All Over Me” and its accompanying tour that Dinosaur Jr. started to influence bands on both sides of the Atlantic, most obviously the Seattle grunge scene and in particular Mudhoney, who incorporated the sludge metal aspect of Dinosaur Jr., and Nirvana who, inspired by “You’re Living All Over Me”, also married hardcore punk’s intensity to metal sludge and grind with pop sensibilities. Over in the UK the band was an influence on the shoegaze scene with My Bloody Valentine taking the way that “Dinosaur Jr. dissolved rock’s vertebrae, vaporizing the riff, power chord and bass line in a blizzard of serrated haze. MBV took this logic of blessed amorphousness to the next level, years later; Kevin Shields would play in the appropriately named J Mascis and the Fog.” Though it’s hard to pick out contemporary bands who are directly influenced by “You’re Living All Over Me” it’s immediate impact echoed in many bands for years to come.

You can listen to “You’re Living All Over Me” here.

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