Greatest hits packages are often somewhat problematic. Sure, they serve a purpose, but who are they for? If a band or an artist only released two or three albums in their career/life, what exactly is the point? Then again, if they had a vast discography, how accurately can you represent someone’s career into a brief amount of time? Then you have hard-core fans who will always bicker over the track list without taking into consideration that a greatest hits collection is not necessarily meant for them. Yet greatest hits collections can serve an excellent purpose, especially when said artist has a dense back catalogue or are underrepresented due to albums being out-of-print, are hard-to-find, or simply don’t have a backlog of material that would be familiar to a listening audience. In some instances, not only are greatest hits packages desirous, but they also can become definitive records in their own right. (Henry Rollins explores this argument quite wonderfully in the new introduction to this collection.)
Case in point: Boston power trio Dinosaur Jr. Formed in the early 1980s by guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph, they hit upon a sound that was an amazing amalgam of punk rock, metal, hardcore, and classic rock. In their heyday, they released seven albums; three on the seminal but problematic SST Records, and four on major label Sire Records. When they split, they did not leave behind a traditional body of work; how best, then, to document such an important but hard to define band? In 2001, four years after their breakup, rhino released Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best Of Dinosaur Jr, a collection of career highlights for a band that never really had traditional ”hits.”
In the United States, Dinosaur Jr built their following in the college radio and underground world thanks to a slew of early singles such as ”Little Fury Things,” the punk rock anthem “Freak Scene,” and a fantastic cover of the cure’s classic, ”Just Like Heaven.” College radio stations went nuts, they became frequent visitors on 120 minutes, and even though J was infamously non-verbal in interviews, they were feted byt he underground zine community. With the alternative rock scene fomenting and the band’s status growing, it’s not surprising major labels soon came knocking.
Signing to a major label coincided with a lineup change, with Barlow leaving the group to start his own band, Sebadoh. But the change didn’t impede the band in any way; if anything, it gave them a greater focus. In 1990 they hit the ground running with two excellent records; their debut single, ”the wagon” preceded what was perhaps their strongest album, Green Mind. It was followed by three excellent albums, 1993’s Where You Been, 1995’s Without A Sound, and 1997’s Hand It Over. Though the singles from these albums were modestly successful at best, the albums were strong enough artistic statement to stand on their own. Perhaps sensing the sea change in music, J put the band pasture in 1997, after having a decent ride for the past decade. Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best Of Dinosaur Jr concluded on a high note, leaving the listeners with a new song from J’s newest project, J Mascis & The Fog. It was a fitting way to wrap up the end of an era and of one of the better American bands of the past decade.
Only thing was, it wasn’t the end.
In 2005, Merge Records acquired the rights to the band’s three independent albums, remastering and reissuing them and returning them to print for the first time in ages. While this development was exciting enough, it arrived with the news that the decades long feud between J and Lou had finally come to an end. (In an interview I did with Barlow in 2004, he said it was maturity that helped bring the feud to an end, nothing more, nothing less.) Even more thrilling was the news that they would make a live appearance on network television––the first ever televise performance of the original trio––as well as a handful of live dates. That soon turned into something more, and a full-fledged return to recording. Since 2007, they have released four albums that are equal to–– If not better than––the material of their heyday. Since the Dinosaur Jr story is far from over, expanding Ear-Bleeding Country was the right thing to do. The second disc was given over to fans, who were asked to select some of their favorite album cuts from their first era, as well as the best and most favorite post reunion numbers.
Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best Of Dinosaur Jr is the rare best of album that can stand alone as an album on its own merits, and this fully expanded edition only doubled down on that greatness, as well as shows that the band’s story. If you’re a fan, this is a fantastic collection to own; if you’re new to the band, this is the absolute perfect place to start.