"Where You Been"
* * * 1/2
For those who remember this Amherst, Mass., trio's concerts with Nirvana back when both bands were struggling outfits, it's tempting to think that the energized, ambitious nature of this album represents Dinosaur Jr. leader J Mascis' response to the creative and commercial explosion surrounding that friendly rival. Even this album's working title--"So What Else Is New"--suggests the same edge of youthful bravado and rejoinder as "Nevermind," Nirvana's 1991 breakthrough collection.
Whatever the reason for the increased openness and daring shown here by this notoriously private, insulated songwriter, "Where You Been" is a bold and affecting work that reaches out to a wider audience without sacrificing the intimacy and mystery that made the band's previous recordings such cult gems.
On top of the searing yet eloquent guitar excursions and introspective lyrics about relationships and miscommunication, Mascis adds all sorts of touches--from falsetto yelps on "Start Choppin" to lavish strings on "Not the Same"--in ways that suggest both confidence and growth.
The result: an album that not only stretches Mascis' art, but--in the best sense of repaying a favor--could serve as creative inspiration for Nirvana as that trio faces the formidable challenge of moving beyond "Nevermind."
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).