Review of The Lemonheads
by Paul Walters
From CD reviews, 3rd November 2006
Evan once remarked in the early days of the Lemonheads’ career that they were so called after those lemon sweets; implying that they were sweet on the outside, but sour on the inside. This has long been a template of both Evan’s solo work and the Lemonheads’ combined efforts, but with this new offering Evan seems to be pushing back to his roots, returning to his love of early punk bands like Hüsker Du and Black Flag, seemingly combining his early work with The Whelps and these early inspirations with his tried and tested bittersweet songwriting abilities.
The self-titled comeback album comprises yet another new line-up made of a few key members of The Descendents, a band which Evan Dando reputedly looked up to in his early musical career. Evan reinforced this in his press pages, “I wanna make another loud record, and those are the guys to do it with.” With this new take on the Lemonheads timeless, carefree style, he seems back on track with a strong album worthy of the Lemonheads stamp. Helping him move into rockier territory are the likes of J. Mascis and Garth Hudson, who appear randomly throughout the album to contribute their considerable talents.
The new album seems to be mostly about missed opportunities and lost goals, which makes you wonder where Evan’s head is at the moment. No matter what has happened to him in his career he has always managed to scramble back from the dregs still clinging to some vestiges of popularity. Admittedly if you take his career as a whole it has always been incredibly rocky, from the initial breakdown of the Lemonheads when Evan just played the famous line from “Sweet Child O Mine” all the way through Ben Deily’s songs whenever they played live, which resulted in Deily leaving the band, through to Evan’s eventual personal breakdown when he admitted to having a crack problem. The album still retains some of their former works’ upbeat quirkiness, but there is definitely an underlying tone that somehow keeps the mood at a constant mid point throughout.
The Lemonheads were always about hiding frighteningly embittered lyrics behind soft vocals and floating ‘I couldn’t care less’ refrains, but with their new line up the Lemonheads seem to be subtly crossing a line that originally made these darker sides less tangible. With this comes a rockier, edgier version of the Lemonheads. It’s not exactly what you might call a ‘dark’ album, but some of the lines can creep up on you, like in the song, “Rule of Three,” where Evan is singing about a cheating wife. The song’s protagonist takes the day off to spy on his cheating spouse and as another man’s car pulls into the driveway Evan sings, “Although my hearts hurtin’ My shotgun is workin’ And it packs one hell of a surprise…” The lines are still a little masked behind the softer alt/ country sounds, but it just sounds like Evan’s losing patience with hiding his lyrics under the surface so much now, as a result his songs just seem a little bit more focused. This may actually detract a bit from the Lemonheads original sound, as being vague is what made Evan so endearing. While not a bad album in any way, the lack of trademark optimistic, sweet songs makes the album a little bereft of standout tracks. Despite this, the standard here is at least consistent and each song is definitely well put together.
Having said that, single “Become the Enemy” is the one clear standout track on the album, it’s no “Outdoor Type,” but it still has that winsome Dando charm, and contains all the wavering, slacker rhythm that is the Lemonheads calling card whilst simultaneously dealing with heartbreak and introspective musings on failed relationships. All with the same languid charisma that smacks of every prior Lemonheads record, lots of laidback remorseful musings on life, and love, presumably staged in and around trailer parks.
In all, this offering is a strong effort and the hired help are top notch and all bring their own styles to the basic Lemonheads structure. However, it still feels a little held back or possibly out of place. It could be that this is just a transitional album as Evan attempts to move more fully back into Hate Your Friends territory. This is definitely one to get if you’re a Lemonheads fan. If you’re not though you may find yourself a bit lost without any obvious singles outside of “Become the Enemy.”