Back to the '90s: Dinosaur Jr. signs to a major label for fourth LP, 'Green Mind'

In early 1991, before Nirvana’s “Nevermind” came out, the underground music scene was at a crossroads.  Groups like Jane’s Addiction and Soundgarden were able to cross over (some would say sell out) to mainstream rock audiences by combining the energy of ’80s hardcore punk with the classic heavy metal sound of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. On the other hand, artists like Pavement, Guided by Voices and Slint eschewed high production values and embraced the lo-fi sound of the early punk scene.

After three albums of blistering rock laced with elements of folk, punk, noise and metal, Dinosaur Jr. was at that crossroads. Guitarist J Mascis more or less picked the first path, while bass player Lou Barlow took the second, leaving the band (though not of his own volition — Mascis told Barlow Dinosaur Jr. was breaking up, then re-formed it without him) to pursue his Sebadoh side project full time.

The band’s first album without Barlow, “Green Mind”, was also their first major label release. The production is certainly cleaner, but it would be hard to describe the sound as mainstream rock. Tracks like “The Wagon” and “How’d You Pin That One on Me” are as rough and ragged as any of their earlier work, though Mascis is not afraid to pull out the acoustic guitars for some of the mellower songs.

There’s no anthem to equal “Freak Scene” (the title track comes close) but Mascis successfully navigates the space between the symphonic noise of Sonic Youth and the melancholy folk-rock of early R.E.M. with side trips to Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen along the way.  It may not have sounded like ’70s classic rock, but it had the scope and ambition of that era.

So did Dinosaur Jr. sell out? Hardly. Instead they managed to open up their sound to fit a larger arena. Maybe not a stadium -ized arena, but certainly big enough for the main stage of Lollapalooza in 1993. Appropriately enough, Sebadoh played the second stage that year.

Text by Nicholas Coleman

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