With their seventh album Hand It Over, Dinosaur Jr ended its tenure with Warner Brothers in a fairly typical fashion. Much had changed since their previous album; Kurt Cobain’s death killed the grunge movement almost immediately. Alternative Rock soon gave way to the rise of pop-punk and nu-metal and a resurgence of teen pop. When the band turned the album in, the label exuded little energy into its release and quietly rid themselves of the band shortly thereafter. The final volume in Cherry Red’s examination of the Dinosaur Jr catalogue shines a light on a record largely ignored the first time around.
Mascis put considerable effort into Hand It Over. Even though he expected it to be their final major label release, J Mascis had no reason to half-ass it; after all, Without A Sound had performed well thanks to “Feel The Pain”. Though the album took three years to appear, Mascis hadn’t been inactive. In 1995 he embarked on a solo acoustic tour, resulting in his first solo album, Martin + Me, released in 1996. He also recorded the fine Beach Boys homage “Take A Run At The Sun” for Allison Anders‘ film Grace Of My Heart. It and “Don’t You Think It’s Time” appeared on the soundtrack credited to J Mascis, but would be released under the Dinosaur Jr name as a single in 1997. (Both songs plus a third number from the single are included here as bonus material.)
Hand It Over offers tighter production; the songs compact, the heavy epics replaced with concise rockers. This trimmed-back approach works, resulting in the most focused Dinosaur Jr record since their SST Records era. “I Don’t Think” launches the album with a cameo from friends and former tour-mates Kevin Shields and Blinda Butcher from My Bloody Valentine. From there, Hand It Over offers some of Dinosaur Jr’s most underrated material. Rockers “Can’t We Move This Along,” “Mick,” and “Nothing Going On” sit nicely next to the mellower fare of “Alone” and “Sure Not Over You”. Mascis even livens things up with a trumpet on “I’m Insane” and a banjo arrangement on “Gettin’ Rough”. Hand It Over doesn’t sound radically different from the production style found on his more recent solo albums.
Reprise released Hand It Over with no fanfare and very little promotion. Mascis didn’t seem too concerned. After playing a handful of shows, Mascis retired the band name. Listening to their appearance at a music festival in Stockholm featured on disc two, it’s clear they went out at the top of their game. Not long after Hand It Over‘s release, the record label quietly transitioned it to cutout status, and before most people knew of its existence, it fell out of print. It joined the ranks with Screaming Trees’ Dust and Mudhoney‘s Tomorrow Hit Today as a superb major label farewell from a once highly regarded band.
Yet Mascis was far from finished. In 2000 he formed J Mascis + The Fog, releasing two albums that picked up where Where You Been left off. The Dinosaur Jr story wasn’t over, either. To celebrate the thirty year anniversary of their debut album, a reissue series of their long out-of-print SST releases appeared. Then the impossible happened: a number of reunion shows featuring the original trio of Murph and Lou Barlow. A few shows soon turned into a tour, which then turned into a full-blown reunion. As of 2019, they’ve released four fine albums and continue to tour the world.
At the time, Hand It Over felt like the unceremonious end of Dinosaur Jr. It was. Thankfully, it wasn’t, and this reissue should serve as a reintroduction to an unfairly overlooked album that certainly desired better.
Purchase Dinosaur Jr Hand It Over: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Cherry Red