Where You Been might not have been a huge money-maker, but it had raised Dinosaur Jr‘s profile; it had sold well and had been critically well-received. It isn’t surprising Warner Brothers perked up their ears and expected more from J Masics. For better or worse, Dinosaur Jr’s sixth album, Without A Sound, is the sound of Dinosaur Jr playing the game. This Cherry Red reissue offers up a chance to revisit one of the band’s most underrated album, once again offering b-sides, outtakes, and a live show to boot.
Considering Without A Sound‘s relatively quick creation–released little over a year after Where You Been–it doesn’t sound radically different than its predecessor. Not as overtly heavy as Where You Been, Without A Sound blends the style of its predecessor with the loose playfulness of Green Mind, and is all the better for it. The album starts with the pop of a bottle–a single-malt scotch, though one might suspect champagne cork. A commentary on the performance of their previous album? A sarcastic Gen-X statement about the album’s possible commercial success and label expectations? “Feel The Pain,” just happened to be the band’s most commercially successful single. means that they must have had expectations.
Yet Without A Sound falters. Mascis has stated before that writing the lyrics proved daunting this time around. Whether due to personal issues (the death of his father), personnel issues (having to double up after Murph left), or the pressure of expectations from his label, something feels off. The album’s sublime “Get Out Of This” could be taken as frustration dealing with one (if not all) of the aforementioned issues. When he sings “will it come to me” and “get me out of this,” the frustration is palpable.
In spite of the awkwardness, Without A Sound does contain several fine moments. “I Don’t Think So,” the album’s second single, delighted with its funny and surreal video, featuring Dinosaur Jr cover art coming to life. “Yeah Right” offers some of the “ear-bleeding country” that they’d always proclaimed as their stock in trade. “Outta Hand” offers up fine acoustic balladry. “Seemed Like The Thing To Do” offers a touching eulogy to an ended relationship–his father, a girlfriend, or his record label.
Without A Sound‘s quick creation also resulted in very little extra left over for b-side material. Only one new track appeared; the appropriately-named “Blah” being otherwise forgettable. The only other studio b-side offered up a guitar-solo instrumental version of “Get Out Of This”. Disc one concludes with a smattering of instrumental versions of album tracks. Even though the lyric writing may have been harder, Masics still composed fantastic melodies. The second disc contains most of a professionally recorded live set recorded at London’s Brixton Academy. This concert provided most of the b-sides for this album’s singles, and highlights new drummer George Berz. It’s a fine set that shows the band’s superb live chops during this era.
The aim of commercial success proved accurate. Though Without A Sound might feel awkward, this reissue offers a chance to revisit it and rethink it; it’s not as bad as you might have remembered, Mascis, however, would not allow his muse to work under such pressure, and it would be three years before Dinosaur Jr would release a new album.
Purchase Dinosaur Jr Without A Sound: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Cherry Red