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Review of The Lemonheads
by Steve Jelbert

From The Times, 23rd September 2006

Back in the early 1990s, Evan Dando looked a dead cert for superstardom. High, handsome and as laid-back as any surfer, with a clutch of great songs to match, he turned the Lemonheads from a local Boston punk band into major label contenders.

Their genuinely original blend of pop-punk and wistful country was captured on concise, catchy albums such as It’s a Shame About Ray and Come On Feel. But Dando fell for Britpop, stalking Oasis and smoking so much crack that he carried out one interview in writing (inspiring their 1996 hit If I Could Talk I’d Tell You). Then he went missing, presumed wasted, re-emerging only gradually.

So it is no wonder that it has been ten years since the last Lemonheads record. Some things haven’t changed, though. The name still applies to Dando and whoever his current pals happen to be, and the record is short, a mere 35 minutes.

Oh, and it’s good, at times very good. It will delight the loyal audiences who came to see the recent shows. Far livelier than Dando’s 2003 solo Baby I’m Bored, which was either pensive or listless depending on your tolerance for the downbeat, The Lemonheads is thrilling enough to wear the name.

The crack rhythm section of Californian punk veterans Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez, of ALL and the Descendents, hold it down. The guests, who include J. Mascis, smearing guitar on No Backbone and Steve’s Boy, and the Band’s veteran keyboardist Garth Hudson, leave their mark. Crucially, Dando’s voice is intact.

All this means that such songs as the catchy opener Black Yard and the elegantly lumpen Become the Enemy seem instantly familiar. Poughkeepsie, a deceptively sunny tune powered superbly by Stevenson, is a dope lament to match Dando’s own My Drug Buddy. And the cynical Let’s Just Laugh pursues the question “What happened to the slackers who never straightened up?”, a fair question, even from a 39-year-old rock star.

The Lemonheads is not perfect. A rambling jam during the closing December is unimpressive, and even 35 minutes is pushing it. But it is a welcome return.

4/5

 

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