Dinosaur Jr - Crumble
“This country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can – even if it's only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards.”
So noted Gil Scott-Heron, drug-ravaged spoken-word visionary, on his monumental epic “B-Movie.” Gil was right. He may have been referring to the American population’s decision to re-elect former Hollywood hero Ronald Reagan to the presidency, but his well-chosen words seem strangely relevant to one current trend within the music industry. The past couple of years, it seems, have marked the era of the comeback and the reunion. Hoping that the warring ex-members of your favourite band would someday get back together has long been a pastime of many a music lover, of course. The Morrissey/Marr reunion or Lee Mavers emerging from his cave to reform the La’s; that’s the stuff that dreams are made of. But that’s precisely the point. We’re meant to have our fanciful notions, safe in the knowledge that they’ll never actually come into being, only to disappoint and sadden us with expanded waistlines, receding hairlines, croaky voices and the all-pervasive stench of filthy comeback lucre.
The rules, however, have changed. Everywhere you look there’s a band putting aside old grievances to trade on past glories for a few dollars more. Maybe the current phenomenon has its roots in television; the ‘I Love The…’ programmes and their imitators precipitated an idea of nostalgia as public entertainment, rather than private indulgence. There’s the internet too; whereas once we might’ve sat in our darkened rooms listening to our Suede records and silently lusting after a Butler/Anderson reconciliation, in the web 2.0 age we were all on forums and messageboards, voicing our hopes in unison and making it known to the powers that be that there was still a nostalgia-hungry fanbase still out there, probably a good deal more affluent than they’d been in 1993, waiting to open their wallets for a reformed release.
I know, I’m exaggerating, there wasn’t that much call for a Butler/Anderson reunion, but, nevertheless, a few people clamoured, the pair obliged with 2005 ‘Here Come The Tears,’ and we were all suddenly reminded of why everybody stopped liking Suede a decade earlier. The old Britpoppers haven’t been alone by any means. House of Love, too, Genesis, the Police, Pink Floyd, the Spice Girls, Take That, Pete Doherty and Carl Barat and others have all reunited in one way or another. Other comebacks, though not strictly speaking reunions, have fulfilled the same role: Brian Wilson may not have re-joined the other surviving Beach Boys, but in just-about reuniting a few of the different parts of his brain, and picking up the making of ‘Smile’ where he left off forty years ago, he too satisfied emotional hunger for the past.
It is into this morass of resurrected heroes and heroines that Dinosaur Jr stride. Of course, we wouldn’t expect Dinosaur Jr to ‘stride’ as such; they ought to swagger, perhaps, noisily and a tad boorishly, though somehow remaining fun and endearing. Their return began a couple of years ago, in the form of live shows, was followed by an album earlier this year and is now marked by ‘Crumble,’ a limited edition, purple vinyl single on PIAS. And it’s… Well, it’s not dreadful, I suppose. But it has no importance, no relevance. It doesn’t sound like the release of a band keen to hold a genuine contemporary voice in today’s music business. What’s sadder is that ‘Crumble’ probably wouldn’t have gained Dinosaur Jr a genuine contemporary voice in the music business of fifteen or twenty years ago, when they were releasing their brilliant early records. Whilst Dinosaur Jr have never been my favourite band, I’ve always been a keen, if slightly distant observer of their original work; even when I’ve heard something that’s not been quite up my street, the band’s craft, passion, intelligence and quality was always clearly apparent beneath the rough-edged aesthetic. That just can’t be said for ‘Crumble,’ which comes on like three fourteen-year-olds attempting an artless rip-off of The Flaming Lips’ ‘Mr. Ambulance Driver.’ Unlike that song, though, ‘Crumble’ is dumb, dull, dynamically inept and structurally unambitious, and lyrical platitudes litter the song like ancient chewing gum trod into a paving stone. In an age of reformed acts that is also an age of tribute bands, the Dinosaur Jr who made ‘Crumble’ are an odd prospect: though the original lineup is present for the first time since 1989, this sounds like a band trying to be a counterfeit Dinosaur Jr, rather than Dinosaur Jr being themselves.
With that in mind, the B-side, ‘Yer Son’ is something of a saving grace. It’s not special, but it’s pretty damn good. It’s got some energy, a little urgency and a genuinely great guitar riff. With the A and B sides reversed, I might be thinking of considerably higher marks for this single. As it is, the reformed Dinosaur Jr seem, like Gil Scott-Heron’s America, determined “not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards,” and if ‘Crumble’ is any indicator, the noise they’re making nowadays is music for people with the same mindset.
Another American cultural icon, Phil Spector, once had the Ronettes sing that “the best part of breaking up is when you’re making up.” Phil, unlike Gil, was wrong, at least in terms of Dinosaur Jr: sometimes broken-up bands ought to stay that way.