Review of The Lemonheads
by Andy Gill
From The Independent 22nd September 2006
Ten years ago, on the last Lemonheads album Car Button Cloth, Evan Dando was apologising for his dissolute, druggie lifestyle, hanging his dirty laundry out to flap about in the breeze of public opinion. Having cleaned his act up, he made his solo debut in 2003 with Baby I'm Bored - and could still be found reflecting on his earlier fecklessness in songs like "Why Do You Do This To Yourself?". That album offered a broad church of styles and, while enjoyable enough, it made few ripples in the marketplace.
To further his aim of making "a rock record, a melodic rock record", Dando has revived the Lemonheads moniker and signed up drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, both veterans of Eighties American punk-rockers The Descendents. The result is a more focused, less varied sound, and none the worse for that. Tight and passionate, "Pittsburgh" could be by an American version of The Jam, while "Become The Enemy" could have been written at any time in the past 20 years, its catchy indie-pop setting providing a stable footing for Dando's account of a collapsing relationship - a theme to which he returns in the spunky rocker "No Backbone".
Dando has a peculiar gift for writing rock songs that sound as if they're covers of country songs, as ably demonstrated here in "Poughkeepsie" and "Baby's Home". The latter is particularly impressive, with its cuckolded narrator displaying a saintly equanimity until the final verse, which finds him outside the house, cradling a shotgun. A similar affinity for troubled emotional undercurrents is at the heart of the father/son conflict of "Steve's Boy", while "December" captures Dando at his sardonic best, kissing goodbye to yet another failed relationship.
A few unusual guest appearances lend quirky colour to some tracks, with Dinosaur Jr guitarist J Mascis and The Band's keyboardist Garth Hudson playing on a couple of tracks apiece. But such variety as they provide is only fleeting: it's probably Hudson playing the melancholy piano chords that open "Black Gown", but within a few bars the track has metamorphosed into a bustling, spiky rocker. Likewise, although "Let's Just Laugh" meanders in like the Grateful Dead starting off on one of their cosmic jams, it's swiftly knocked into more serviceable indie-rock shape, with the blithe resignation of Dando's voice and attitude at odds with the squall of his guitar break. Like the album as a whole, the song's appeal resides in its resolution of apparently incompatible forms, a rare gift that should be handled with care.