I gave Dinosaur Jr.’s second reunion effort Farm a very favorable review and while it is a great record, a year or so after its release I found myself returning to Beyond at a much greater frequency. Where Beyond blasts through its track listing, Farm chills out a bit (as much as Dino can chill) and meanders through even more extended solo sections with slower tempos. So when their third reunion effort (and 10th album overall) I Bet On Sky was announced, I was excited to see if it would get back to the rip-roaring tempos, or if these gray-hairs were getting grayer.
“Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” starts things out with J Mascis’ funkier side, with quick, clean chords over sustained keys and a tight, speedy groove from Lou Barlow and Murph. It grows to a louder breakdown chorus and has a laid-back tremoloed solo near the finish. Single “Watch the Corners” (with its video featuring Tim Heidecker) chugs through the intro (in strikingly similar fashion to “It’s Me” from Beyond) and opens up as a nice mellow rocker. The bridge has the big hook, though it takes a while to get there. “I Know It Oh So Well” gets funky again with wah pedal and nice tom work by Murph but busts into some big guitar sections including a bridge rockin’ some cowbell and crunchy seventh chords.
However, my big issue with Farm is still present: most of the songs on I Bet On Sky are long and mid-to-slow tempos. The one J song that would be an exception would be “Pierce the Morning Rain.” which starts with a billy club of a riff and tears through its running time in under three minutes, a welcome change in an album of five-minute songs. Minus “Almost Fare,” which is built on a rather dopey little guitar lick, the songs are solid, just not as in-your-face as I was hoping for. “Stick a Toe In” would be the premier ballad of the set, featuring chunking piano chords and fuzzy bass details from Barlow. But where’s the “Over It”-style shredder to follow it up?
Then there’s Barlow’s “Rude,” which seems out of place, like it was written for Sebadoh rather than Dino. It’s got some classic Lou lyrics: "Caring is rude / And nature is cruel." But with the straight-forward and giddy beat, the simplistic guitar runs and the distorted obscured vocals, it just doesn’t seem “Dino.” “Recognition” makes much more sense within the set while retaining that Barlow feel. It opens with a spooky stomp followed by a slippery quick riff in the vocal breaks. There’s a complete breakdown to light acoustic plucks in the bridge, bursting into one of J’s patented solos.
While these old dudes still rock, I Bet On Sky is the weakest of their reunion albums. At this point they’ve been reunited for seven years, so they’re itching to expand their sound back out after proving to the world with Beyond and Farm that they’ve still got the magic. It’s that finicky third album, all over again.