Review of The Lemonheads
by Keith Cameron

From Mojo October 2006

The Punk's Not Dead

Forget smoking rocks, just bring back the rock. After a 10-year hiatus, Evan Dando returns to his first love. By Keith Cameron.

Blame the sandy good-looks or the facts of his liberal Boston upbringing (attorney dad, Vogue model mum), but it's a popular view that Evan Dando is stupid. He "stupidly" blew his gig as the Generation X poster boy by "stupidly" taking loads of drugs. Then, "stupidly", he didn't make a proper record for almost 10 years.

But perhaps Dando is smart enough to have done whatever he wanted with is talent. He quite unashamedly used the fame and money he landed with The Lemonheads as the alt-rock wave peaked to get loaded and have a good time. Not everything he did was dignified, but then nor is prostrating oneself before the avarice of the entertainment industry. So, during the early-Noughties punk revival, Evan Dando was playing acoustic music. Now, as nu folk becomes a lifestyle soundtrack, he's revived the Lemonheads name and made an album with Bill Stevenson of early '80 punk legends Descendents. Dando hasn't sounded so switched-on in a long time.

From a 39-year-old drug veteran, you might reasonably expect weariness, even cynicism. But the opening Black Gown is startling evidence of Evan's revivification. In little more than 120 exultantly compact seconds he delivers the essence of the pre-hits Lemonheads - high-velocity melody thrills played with relish by hardcore zealots - suffused with the pop-smart synthesis of heat-haze and endorphins Dando minted definitively circa 1993. "Is it really true, years passed away?" he sings, his voice burnt but still sienna'd. "I've been dreaming of the bales of house-high hay." The aura of dippy hedonism remains irresistible.

With Stevenson on drums throughout, plus Descendents bassist Karl Alvarez on seven out of 11 tracks, The Lemonheads have never sounded so feral yet so tight. The Band's Garth Hudson is an unexpected guest, and J Mascis's six-string tumbleweed decorates two songs with inimitable verve. Predictably peerless on the uptempo romps, the ensemble handles more reflective material with real tenderness too. The backporch-psych of Become The Enemy has a colossal crunch. Poughkeepsie is a lush accommodation between breeze and brawn. Lyrically it avers that people can get lost be they in sleazy uptown Manhattan or rural upstate NY. Pittsburgh features equally sober analysis: "With a little bit of common sense, you can lose a lot of innocence in this world, you can leave yourself behind." With perfumed melodies, Dando's confessionals never feel gruelling, while long-time co-songwriter Tom Morgan offers the show-stealing murder ballad Baby's Home.

At 35 minutes, The Lemonheads quits before over-familiarity descends, amid a couple of by-rote numbers where you sense that the ease with which Dando fulfils his brief precludes pushing the envelope further. Not through inability, rather a perennial punk's disinclination to blow up his cute little sketches beyond their natural canvas. But just because it's bubblegum, doesn't mean it shouldn't taste good. Welcome back Evan Dando, master confectioner. No wasted talent he.


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