Never Heard of 'Em
Dinosaur Band Edition!
Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
Hi! I've been joking for months about not knowing the difference between "the dinosaur bands," T. Rex and Dinosaur Jr. I keep hearing references to both of them, and I wanted to know: What's the deal? How could there be two groups said to be completely different, yet, based on casual references, both fundamental to know about—and they both have dinosaur names? Via osmosis, I've picked up that one is from approximately the 1970s, one is from approximately the 1980s, and one has a frontman with long white hair. Which is which? I decided to find out for a double-wide dino review. Never Heard of 'Em: Dino Edition!
I listened to this one first, and I immediately got why everyone is still talking about it. (Research and obviousness show that these guys are the earlier ones—late 1960s to '70s.) The first track, "Mambo Sun," is amazing. I can't tell if it's the drum or the bass or both, but the beat the song hangs on wants to live in my bones. It makes something inside me wake up. He's low-growling something about a girl, an alligator, the bebop moon, wild knees, and Dr. Strange, and it sounds like lust feels. It must immediately be played again. "Oh, take me!" This is a song made for strutting.
Next you go dancing with quiet British voices and strings, and then after that you're his baby and his love again, and he's a Jeepster. A Jeepster for your love! And the universe is in your hair. Ooooh, boy, I want to shut myself in my room with this album. I looked up this singer who's a Jeepster for us all, Marc Bolan, and he's spectacular. (And quite dead, tragically.) He looked like a frizzy Johnny Depp. His lapels were out to there. He was a leader in men's eyeliner and surely a consumer of shocking amounts of conditioner. He wore leather and pink boas and sometimes a top hat. I bet his hips were magnificent.
Soon I discovered that of course I'd heard T. Rex before, because, duh, BANG A GONG. That's them. "Get it on, bang a gong," etc.—a song that maybe you don't know all the lyrics to until someone picks it at karaoke, and the screen makes you do a double take.
If you are unfamiliar with T. Rex, I recommend that you go get this album about as soon as you can manage, because it's warm and sexy and it'll be good listening for walking around in springtime. If you listen to Electric Warrior on your way to a date, you'll be endowed with unnatural powers of seduction. If you listen to it as you walk to work, you'll arrive feeling unstoppable. If you can shut yourself in a house with it and turn it up, you will surely dance in a way where your body starts moving and you just follow, and then you'll realize you're starring in one of the clips from the movie montage scene of the funnest times in your life. Bring a friend.
I give this a "pants-off dance-off!" out of 10.
You're Living All Over Me
And then I listened to this. Oof! Not a great transition; I don't recommend it. This album starts off immediately with distorted guitar and unintelligible shouting. It took me a long time to stop being annoyed at this album, because it all sounds pissy and sad. Like they have no sense of humor, like they have no desire or any fun, ever. Also, a certain kind of distortion has an effect on me not unlike that of a dental drill's whine—I feel clenched and a bit ill. That's how this first song ends, in a wall of that. The tambourine is the best part. The third track is "Sludgefeast." The guitars melt into a sound like a demon possessing a motorcycle engine. You think the song's over then, but no! Screeebledeebledeedeeeee guitar solooooo time!
People love Dinosaur Jr.; there has to be a reason. It sounds like a band that would be playing while someone on a '90s TV show goes out with a cool college guy. (Don't get roofied, Felicity!) Given that this album came out in 1987, I bet it was totally ahead of its time.
This lead singer is the guy with the long white hair, J Mascis. The internet makes him sound like a god, and also not that nice. He seems exacting, precise, and influential. In the songs, the mood is whiny. Like dudes who can't get girlfriends (or boyfriends) because they refuse to clean their apartments since they're always at band practice.
But that doesn't seem fair. In an effort to give this music a chance, I tried matching it up with visuals. That worked! It makes simple cartoons look badass. Duck Tales set to Dinosaur Jr.? Super-awesome. (Fun fact: Duck Tales and You're Living All Over Me came out the same year!) Also: video games. Living will really give you an edge at sad, stoned Mario Kart playing.
I can't put my finger on it, but even though this explodes with noise, it sounds mechanical. Where T. Rex was warm, this is cold. It feels less than honest—even though it's hurty and weird, it's not actually emotional. And maybe that's what people like about it; there's something going on with the composition that I don't get. It goes crazy and backward and quiet sometimes. But I can't connect.
I give this a "screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" out of 10.