Review of Baby I'm Bored by John Adamian

From New Haven Advocate 24th April 2003

In the heyday of grunge, Evan Dando, former frontman of the Lemonheads, always seemed to get an inordinate amount of crap. It may have been that his music wasn't dissatisfied or abrasive enough, or that he flew too close to the immolating heat of pop celebrity, but I think much of it had to do with his good looks.

Dando has a sunny, sandy-blond, California surfer-boy stoner exterior that hardly signifies depth in the semiotic shorthand of music snobbery. And while Lemonheads records may have been spotty, with always a few duds in the bunch, Dando generally came through with one or two (or three or four even) great songs on a disc. His collaboration with former Blake Baby Juliana Hatfield on It's a Shame About Ray's "Drug Buddy" captured the shiftless boredom of suburban teenhood, and the title track on the record had a classic, unforgettable chorus. What's more, while many other bands would only deign to cover songs with an ironic wink, Dando fearlessly plucked ripe old tunes like "Frank Mills" from the soundtrack to Hair. And he was ahead of the cult-curve in championing cosmic-country idol Gram Parsons with his cover of "Brass Buttons" on 1990s Lovey.

Dando largely disappeared after 1996's Car Button Cloth. But after what amounts to an eternity in the world of pop music, Dando is now back with Baby I'm Bored, his first solo record.
One of the problems with the Lemonheads was that the rhythm section could never shake their agitated, punk inclinations, and the drums were always energetically pushing the music in directions it didn't want to go. Dando's warm, lazy voice got hurried along by the band.

Going solo was the right thing to do. By the sound of it, Dando did a few other right things since then too, like getting married and cleaning up his act a bit. He sounds like someone who has come to terms with being out of control. On "Shots Is Fired," he sings, "Whatever part of you that's been calling the shots is fired." At times, like on "Why Do You Do This To Yourself?" he sings like Ernest Tubb in a 12-step program.

He's also teamed up with the Hamden-raised Jon Brion, a wiz producer who's worked with Aimee Mann and on the scores for films like Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. As a result, the record has lots of subtle touches that go nicely with the effortless sound of his voice and songwriting. And aside from Brion, Dando also shares songwriting duties with Royston Langdon, former singer of Spacehog; Chris Brokaw, former drummer of Codeine and guitarist for Come; and Ben Lee, the Australian musician who was on MTV before graduating from high school. With such a who's-who of collaborators, the disparate creative input could threaten to push a project in too many directions, but throughout Baby I'm Bored the music stays centered on Dando's winning voice and loose phrasing.

"It Looks Like You" is a beautiful piece of--OK, I'll say it--soft rock, with a catchy country verse and a chorus that evokes bands like America. And then when he gets to the bridge, it's just one more pretty bit of melody that pokes around in different unexpected places. And where many musicians would play up the hint of country with excessive twang, Dando lets the whiff of Nashville float by without overdoing it.

If the popularity of last year's releases by Beck and Wilco indicate a general move toward folk-rock dusted with an atmospheric and crackly surface, Dando can be viewed as being right in line with things. But there's also a Some Girls-like slinkiness lurking beneath some of the tracks. And the jumpy piano and hand claps on "Waking Up" sound like Little Creatures-era Talking Heads.
There's comfort in hearing a songwriter who sounds like his creative impulse has been stimulated by relative contentment. It's so un-punk that it's radical. Dando may be bored, but he sounds happy about it.

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