Review of Varshons
by Iann Robinson
From Crave Online, May 2009
I’m not usually one for cover albums, it always seems like the end of the line when a band starts cranking those out (Metallica anyone) but this is a little different. The Lemonheads and their main singer/songwriter Evan Dando was the quintessential “alternative” band in the way it was defined during the nineties. They were possessed of an anti-corporate attitude while still able to write catchy pop tunes. Even with their noisier debut album “Kill Your Friends” there was an ability to actually write songs behind the facade. The Lemonheads’ popularity peeked with 1992’s “It’s A Shame About Ray” after which the band was obscured by Dando’s personal life and a music scene driven more by whoring out teen angst than good music.
Sixteen years later The Lemonheads have signed a new record deal with The End Records and their first offering is “Varshons” (produced by Butthole Surfers legend Gibby Hanes) a selection of covers re-written in that melancholy pop style The Lemonheads are masterful at. What makes this album different from the gasping hopes at a hit record or the contract-fulfilling final album of most bands is that, well, it’s The Lemonheads. Dando and his bunch are once again doing exactly what they want and just putting it out there for people to enjoy.
The songs here are incredibly random and feel sincerely like songs the band actually loves. Dando’s voice sounds older, wiser but still with that far-off sadness that made him such an icon for the disassociated pop crowd. Essentially The Lemonheads were an “indie” band long before anybody knew that would grow into some kind of sub-genre classification.
The music on Varshons ranges from still and quiet to full on rocking but never repetitive. The band moves out into enough tiny areas of experimentation to keep each song different. For instance the disco enhanced cover of Arling And Cameron’s “Dirty Robot” featuring Kate Moss. It doesn’t sound cool but it really is.
The band also attempts to Lemonhead-ize some real doozies on Varshons. Try and imagine a slow and sensitive version of a GG Allen song (Layin’ Up With Linda) or an even more heart breaking version of a Leonard Cohen jam (Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye) and you start to get the idea of how cool Varshons is. I was also really impressed with the obscurity of some of the selections. No band covering Fuckemos, Sam Gopal, Randy Alvey & Green Fuz is looking to make out with the top 40 set. The Lemonheads also do a cover of Waiting Around To Die by Towne Van Zant. This is one of the most crushingly wonderful songs ever written and Dando maintains that while making the song his own.
I’ve always been a Lemonheads fan and I’ve long felt they were robbed of their rightful place in the pantheon of pop greats. Along with bands like Jellyfish, The Krays and Urge Overkill, The Lemonheads wrote brilliant pop gems that were lost in the shuffle of noisier but much less talented bands. Varshons is clearly The Lemondheads’ announcement that they are not only back but also still marching to the beat of their own drummer. This album is so strong I can’t wait to hear the original work The Lemonheads do next.