Three albums in and you can normally tell that when a reunion bears more sincerity than the customary best-of repackaging and lap of European festival appearances. For influential indie-rock idlers Dinosaur Jr, who inspired a generation of wistful noise-ists with a slothenly shrug in the late ’80s, there’s nay been a greatest hit to really speak of, never mind a collection of them. With I Bet On Sky, their tenth album in all, guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph have notched up as many full-lengths since calling a ceasefire on former creative conflicts in 2005 as they did during their career-defining heyday.
While music has morphed and mutated considerably since the days when anything they released may have been thought of as bold or boundary-pushing, the trio’s persistent greeting of naïve expectations of a sudden uprooting of their well-worn sound with a stubborn yawn and a Telecaster throttling is still something to be admired. Perhaps that’s because, in spite of legions of scuzz-pop revival impressionists trying their damnedest, there’s still no one around who can do Dinosaur quite like Dinosaur.
But while it does offer some of the band’s brightest and tightest moments this side of ’88, IBOS isn’t as vital a batch of songs as the last two and there’s nothing here that roars quite as triumphantly as ‘Over It’ from 2009’s Farm. In spite of the ever so slightly more pastoral approach though, save for the punkish chug of ‘Pierce the Morning Rain’, the album manages to succeed its recent forebears in terms of cohesion and with less uncertain meandering.
After the gradual melodics (and keyboard backing) of sweetly modest opener ‘Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know’ gets the pleasantries out of the way it’s back to reassuringly familiar terrain. Lead single ‘Watch The Corners’ bears all the trademarks of classic Dinosaur Jr; Mascis’ drowsily secreted hooks and submersive swells of searing guitar kept in focus by Lou and Murph’s propulsive rhythms, all aligning with such delicate precision to make you lovestruck over them all over again. It’s as corrosively irresistible as anything this side of ‘Start Choppin’, slouching deservedly alongside the rest of their back catalogue highlights.
From then on it’s a more varied palette, ranging from ‘Almost Fare’s breezy strumming and the tender strains of ‘Stick a Toe In’ to two rock solid Lou-sung efforts and the slightly awkward wah-funk of ‘I Know It So Well’, all strewn across that grainy warmth that, if it weren’t for you blasting it from a Soundcloud page through an iPhone 5 dock, could almost pull the plaid wool of ’91 over your eyes and ears.
It mightn’t be as pound-for-pound essential as its predecessors, but without having to convince reunion naysayers any longer Dinosaur Jr have found a way of steadying themselves with a tautness that’ll warrant more welcoming revisits. A slicker, if more docile venture.