Sound: It has been said that Dinosaur Jr are solely responsible for reintroducing the lead-guitar to American indie/alternative rock in the late '80s. Along with the Pixies, they were one of the most successful bands to emerge from the American underground rock scene. The release of 'Bug' proved to be significant in the bands history: J Mascis had taken control of the songwriting, leaving Lou Barlow and Murph somewhat disillusioned with the group. Lou Barlow was actually fired from the band after the recording and tour of 'Bug', due to the tension building between him and Mascis over creative control. During the 'Bug' sessions, Barlow and Mascis rarely spoke to one another. Although Dinosaur Jr had largely become an avenue for J Mascis' songwriting at this point, 'Bug' remains the bands last release with the original three members. Since this time, the three have reconciled their differences and have come together to write new material for an album due out later this year.
This aside, 'Bug' remains one of the bands most focused and brilliant works. It is more cleanly-produced than their previous works and features more conventional song-writing, which is evident in the success of the fantastic opener "Freak Scene" which proved to be a hit on college radio throughout the summer of 1988. Like many other alternative and indie rockers from this period, J Mascis seemed to have a fascination with Electro Harmonix Big-Muff pedals, which produced Dinosaur Jr's signature distortion-laden sound. Many of the songs feature rhythm patterns reminiscent of early 1980s hardcore punk; however, Mascis glosses this over with the subtleties and intelligence of indie rock. The tracks "No Bones" and "They Always Come" both brilliantly show Mascis' appreciation of hardcore punk with their intensity, but they also show his superior songwriting over works of the hardcore punk era. 'Bug' also reveals Mascis' love of folk (particularly the work of Neil Young) as heard in "Pond Song". Although not a conventional guitarist, Mascis is certainly talented and proves this with his many guitar solos throughout the album. "Freak Scene" and "Let it Ride" both contain frantic guitar solos, whilst "They Always Come" and "Yeah We Know" have more melodic ones. Though Mascis was very much the centre of Dinosaur Jr at this time, the roles of both Lou Barlow on bass and Murph on drums should not be taken for granted: Murph, though an incredibly heavy and loud drummer, plays with incredible subtlety and Lou Barlow is integral to the sound of the band. Barlow's bass playing is actually fairly melodic, harmonising on some tracks with Mascis (most clearly heard on "They Always Come"), and is much more than just playing root notes. Although a fairly intense sounding, Dinosaur Jr manage to play their music with intelligence and subtlety. // 10
Lyrics: Due to the immense sound of the band, the vocals tend to sit in the back of the mix. Consequently, some of the lyrics are somewhat hard to hear much of the time. It can be said, though, that the lyrical side of Dinosaur Jr has always come second behind the music. J Mascis does not seem to possess the gift of creating ironic lyrical passages like his contemporaries Thurston Moore or Frank Black. At times, Mascis' voice sounds a little weak against the powerful arrangements. One cannot blame him for this, as the arrangements are incredibly loud. There are times though his understated style of singing suits the arrangements perfectly: the wah-driven "Yeah We Know" is an example of this. During the folky "Pond Song", though, Mascis' voice soars above the arrangements, sounding clearer and stronger than ever. In the experimental closer "Don't", Mascis also manages to scream his way through the entire song, which is a welcome change at first, but becomes tiresome after 5 minutes, as do the angst-ridden lyrics. Overall, Mascis' style of singing is individual and typical of the indie era. It is understated, as are his lyrics, but due to the immense sound of Dinosaur Jr, his voice can sound thin and weak against the arrangements. Mascis actually does have a decent voice; it is just that it needs to feature a little more prominently in the mix. // 8
Overall Impression: 'Bug' is a fantastic album, albeit not a perfect one. It is also a very influential album, particularly on the alternative rock movement of the early '90s. For those out there who like guitar solos, loud bass and drums, this is the album for you. Dinosaur Jr toured with Nirvana and Sonic Youth as seen in the documentary "1991: The Year that Punk Broke", and Dinosaur Jr are said to be amongst Nirvana's influences. Although some consider 'You're Living All Over Me' to be Dinosaur Jr's best release, 'Bug' is more accessible and features catchier songs. With the release of a new studio album out mid-year, now is the perfect time to get into 'Bug'. // 9