Review of The Lemonheads
by Dave Lake
From Aversion September 2006
Evan Dando, how we have missed thee. Once one of al- rock's most intriguing figures, the Boston-raised baby-faced heartthrob has been laying low the past decade, releasing only a single solo disc (2003's Baby, I'm Bored) since the last Lemonheads record, 1996's uneven Car Button Cloth (Atlantic). But Dando's eighth album is a welcome return to form for one of the last decade's finest power pop songwriters.
The Lemonheads have always seemed less like a band and more like a catchy name for whatever assortment of backing musicians Dando felt like assembling. And that remains true here, only this time out Dando strays from collaborators similar in style to his own (Juliana Hatfield, Ben Lee) to make music with punk rock legends Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez of the Descendents and All. Also appearing are Garth Hudson of The Band and Boston buddy J Mascis, who's unmistakable guitar tone lights up a pair of tracks.
The song cycle here is pure Dando, as effortless melodies slip and slide over four-chord pop gems. Thanks to Stevenson, who also wrote several tracks, and who co-produced the album with Dando, Lemonheads is bright and bouncy, giving renewed vigor to Dando's warm, gravely voice. Whereas It's a Shame About Ray (1992, Atlantic) was stripped down and introspective, this version of the Lemonheads travels back to the band's Taang! records days, only with two decades of evolved songwriting to blend with the bombast.
Several songs on Lemonheads rank amongst the best work in Dando's catalog. "Become the Enemy" surveys the wreckage of a failed relationship, with Dando first blaming himself, then his partner, and ultimately, both of them. "No Backbone" contemplates the play-it-safe bedroom behavior of the narrator, and the minor chord beauty of "Steve's Boy" is a heartbreaking attempt by a father to reconcile with his son.
Ultimately, Lemonheads isn't likely to broaden the band's reach any. Punk rock kids won't suddenly think Evan Dando is the new Matt Skiba, but neither will longtime fans be disappointed by the band's louder direction. Distorted guitars and up-tempo rhythms aside, the record still has Dando's fingerprints all over it. Fans of the band during their mid-'90s heydays will likely find this a welcome return to form for a songwriter who has been artistically quiet for much too long.