Of the bands featured in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, only two have made significant comebacks in recent years: the Massachusetts outfits Mission Of Burma and Dinosaur Jr. It’s telling that both of these ’80s indie-rock pioneers have made their comebacks succeed by more or less circling the wagons. Rather than venturing into uncharted sonic territory as it once did, Dinosaur Jr. has settled into a comfortable—and comforting—rut, starting with 2007’s Beyond, the group’s first album after a 10-year break (and its first with the original lineup since 1988’s Bug). Beyond and its follow-up, 2009’s Farm, are everything any Dinosaur Jr. fan could have hoped for: loud, energized, and full of same classic yet shambolic songcraft that made the group so beloved in the first place.
Dinosaur Jr.’s new full-length, I Bet On Sky, changes nothing. Nor should it. Opener “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” slithers in with singer-guitarist J. Mascis’ limber-wristed jangle and a melodramatic wash of slovenly synthesizer. Mascis’ singsong whisper gives way to an enormous chorus that curdles his melancholy into a tooth-rattling, symphonic assault, complete with jittery piano. For a band that sloppily covered The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” mere months after the original was released, it’s an eerily Cure-like exercise in mope. But with songs like the seething “Watch The Corners” and the punky “Pierce The Morning Rain,” I Bet On Sky patches together the bittersweet and the bombastic—which has always been Mascis’ specialty. Exploring loneliness through volume and wimpiness through noise, solo-laden closer “See It On Your Side” brings out Dinosaur Jr.’s inner Crazy Horse. Not that it’s ever been hidden.
With Mission Of Burma’s excellent, post-millennial comeback, the group has only its own frame of reference to draw from; after all, it originally sought to deconstruct rock and reinvent it from the ground up. Dinosaur Jr., however, has always had one foot solidly in ’70s nostalgia, both ironically and sentimentally. And now that nostalgia has a signal boost. There’s a ’90s revival going on, and it only adds to the feel-bad-to-feel-good resonance of I Bet On Sky. The disc may be act three of Dinosaur Jr.’s resurrection, but it hardly seems like it’ll be its last. Dug in, dialed in, and with the cruise control set on overdrive, Mascis and crew have nothing left to prove. Instead they just put their heads down, crank it up, and rock.