SONIC YOUTH – DIRTY (1992)

DINOSAUR JR. – GREEN MIND (1991)

February 19th, 1991. Dinosaur Jr released their fourth album, Green Mind, the band’s first on a major label and first without founding bassist Lou Barlow. It could be considered a J Mascis solo album, with founding drummer Murph only featuring on three tracks and J playing all other instruments, barring a few guests.

In their first five years, Dinosaur made three highly influential records that revolutionised underground guitar rock and sent shockwaves through the community. The original line-up of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph, three unkempt punks from Amherst, Massachusetts, was a potent mix of undeniable musical chemistry and personal dysfunction that threatened to derail the whole show at every turn.

In 1989, simmering tensions between Mascis and Barlow caused an acrimonious split. Mascis fired Barlow and pushed forward with his vision for the band. The following album, Green Mind, would be their first without the neurotic songwriting contributions of Barlow.

Released on Sire subsidiary Blanco y Negro, February 19th, 1991, and despite the upheavals and personal changes behind the scenes, Green Mind’s overall sound changed little from Bug, the album that preceded it by just 16 months.

The album ushered in the version of Dinosaur Jr. that would live out the rest of the ’90s, with Mascis assuming the role of high priest of slacker alternative rock. Often cast as a lonely stoner figure. While he would work with other musicians more collaboratively on successive recordings, Mascis stayed at the centre of every decision for the band’s major-label run. Green Mind would be the most restless and insular of those four albums, born out of Mascis’ band deteriorating under its weight, leaving him to ramble and shred as his own devices saw fit.

According to Mascis, the Green Mind sessions weren’t as lonely for him as they were tranquil. “I didn’t have the stress of Lou, and so I was just psyched to record,” Mascis explains. “For me, it was fun building up the songs and playing everything. It’s a weird-sounding album, and I question some of the choices I made. When I hear it, it sounds odd; it has its own sound, but it’s just, like, not exactly the sound of a band.”

Mascis adds: “I look back on Green Mind with fondness. It was our first major label experience, which was good because it was different from the indie labels I had been on, which were shady and never paying. They just gave you the money to make the record, and you just gave them the record. They never said anything or had any input, which I liked at the time. I hear things on the album I would like to change, but generally, I like it, and I’m glad that people like it.”

Album opener The Wagon (with assistance from Gumball’s Don Flemming), previously the A-side of a 1990 Sub Pop single and later released, maintained the momentum created by ‘Freak Scene,’ their underground “hit” single from Bug. J Mascis stated in an interview that “The Wagon” was partly inspired by the station wagons that he and Lou Barlow used to get around in the band’s early days. He explained:

“We always had a station wagon. Lou and I, our parents had wagons, and that’s how we’d get around, in our parents’ cars. On our first tour, we did it in a station wagon. It was a good car because it held a lot of stuff. It was a part of the band when we started. I wish cars still had the wood panelling.” The song’s freewheeling cathartic energy is instantly infectious and unmistakably Dinosaur Jr.

“Puke & Cry” blends acoustic guitars into the usual fuzzed-out electric guitar, drums and bass. The focused clarity of the clean acoustic adds an extra dimension to the tight, stuttered attack of the intro. J’s verse vocal is reflective, delivering lyrics shrouded in raw honesty that depict the struggles of balancing love and self-identity. Mascis sings, “You wanna hold me down, but I’m always coming apart,” expressing the constant battle between losing oneself in a relationship and maintaining individuality.

“Blowing It” continues with the use of acoustic guitars shimmering beneath the electric din. Delving into the internal struggle of navigating relationships and communication, Mascis wrings every ounce of pathos from his voice as he repeats, “I don’t know a thing to say to you.” The song portrays a sense of confusion, self-doubt, and fear of making mistakes, leading to a lack of clarity on how to express oneself or handle certain situations.

“I Live For That Look” opens with J’s guitar taking centre stage. After a glorious one-and-a-half minutes of hook-filled verses and choruses, J rips a patented guitar solo as the song fades out before the two-minute mark. Next up is the twelve-string acoustic shimmer of “Flying Cloud.” Mascis sounds breathless and bemused. The heavily reverbed percussion and glistening acoustic strums make the track feel like an alternate universe Led Zeppelin, shot through a punk rock cannon.

“How’d You Pin That One on Me?” only slightly dials back the punk-infused racket that permeated the first three albums. The wild abandon and chaos of Dinosaur Jr’s first three albums was born of anger and frustration, Green Mind is the sound of J Mascis locked in a room battling himself.

In retrospect, listening to Green Mind, one has to be reminded that this was an album recorded almost entirely by Mascis alone. At the time of recording, he was just 25; he showed a profound talent for composition and an ability to translate it to tape. Songs like “Water,” “Muck,” and “Thumb” thrash with a reckless, joyous, uplifting energy. It’s hard to imagine this being anything but a live band recording to tape on the studio floor.

The title track, “Green Mind”, closes the album. The lyrics suggest a sense of detachment from the world, as Mascis confesses to often picturing things differently and feeling out of sync with those around him. Repeating the line “On the outside, “Mascis’s shattered laconic drawl perfectly signifies a sense of being on the fringe outside societal norms.

This scene of being an outsider permeates Dinosaur Jr’s finest work, and Green Mile is a high watermark. Their unique sound paved the way for the rise of alternative rock in the 1990s and continues to inspire musicians today.

Green Mind maintained the power and punch of earlier Dinosaur Jr. but didn’t feel it was forcibly carving the same thrashy, punk rock path as its predecessors. It was marginally more laid back and more relaxed. This made Green Mind feel more nuanced as an album. One can argue it was on a song like “Flying Cloud” that J Mascis gave a first taste of the style and approach he would celebrate years later on his solo albums like Several Shades Of Why in 2011.

J Mascis once described the sound of Green Mind perfectly. Asked to summarise his thoughts on the album, Mascis broke a long silence between the interviewer’s question and his answer with a yawn and replied, “Easy listening.” And this is still true of Dinosaur Jr’s sound today; they just punctuate that easy listening charm with crashing guitars, slashing bass and thunderous drums.

Essential….!