Reviews of The Best of The Lemonheads - The Atlantic Years
Victoria Segal - NME July 1998
For a form that prides itself on forward-looking irreverence, popular music has a startling weakness for the concept of The Classic, for engraving names on the monolith of rock history. Of all the things that have been unkind to Evan Dando – drugs, the press, short hair – time has been the unkindest of all.
The alt-rock poster-boy of the early-‘90s because a Nick Heyward for the DM generation – blondly, blandly cute, sweetly endearing and with an artistic reputation blown out like birthday candles. Evan was always better at breaking hearts than new ground and it makes perfect sense that The Lemonheads’ biggest hit was a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’, much adored by weekend hippies. While Nirvana and Suede were soundtracking lives, Dando’s ambition stretched to the few seconds of melancholy, the joyful blip.
‘The Best Of The Lemonheads’ – mainly covering the time from 1992’s ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ to their last album ‘Car Button Cloth’ – highlights both Dando’s gifts and his insurmountably irritating flaws. Playing on his wide-eyed charms with deceptive determination, he looked like the kind of boy who could get it together to write songs but would probably find pedestrian crossings bewildering. It was an image that gave sometimes ordinary songs a veneer of otherworldliness and, more importantly, that moment-capturing magic. Over half these songs are less than three minutes long – not because of any rigorous discipline, you imagine, but more because he’d be wandering off in search of jelly and coffee once he’d emptied his head. The tracks from ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ might be self-indulgent but they’re never ponderous: ‘My Drug Buddy’ creeping along like it hurts to lift its head; the muted REM shades of the title track; the heartbreak-on-a-spoon of ‘Rudderless’ – these are silvery shards of songs, catching the light before dying away.
Hearing all of them together, though, makes you realise how little they actually had to reflect. By ‘Come On Feel The Lemonheads’, transfixed teenagers were realising that if they just wanted something cute, they’d be better off getting a hamster (no danger of that getting out a guitar for a campfire singalong) and vulnerable mutated into punchable. When you know Dando’s capable of a ling as sharp as. “Enough about us/Let’s talk about me” from the sunbursting ‘It’s About Time’, the dreary whimsy of ‘Being Around’ (“If were a dance floor would you shake your thing?”) or the watery politics of ‘Big Gay Heart’ become all the more grating. Sounding like they were on commission from steel guitar manufacturers doesn’t help, either; the tobacco-spitting country-rock element sitting uneasily with Evan’s brand of deep-gazing sincerity and permanent vacation in Slackerworld. ‘If I Could Talk I’d Tell You’ is mere plaid-shirted Freddie And The Dreamers, while the closing acoustic tracks – ‘Down About It’, ‘Into Your Arms’ – wear spiritual beards and ponchos, the loose end of an unravelling plot.
As another blonde bombshell once sand, “Men grow cold as girls grow old/And we all lose our charms in the end”. Evan would understand. Yet somewhere in this collection, the charm is preserved. Blink and you’d miss it, but that’s what makes it.
Paul Rees - Q July 1998
This compilation signals the end of The Lemonheads' association with Atlantic. With no label and his band in a state of stasis, Evan Dando's talent may have finally burnt out. These 19 songs highlight both the degree to which he's squandered his gifts and the wretched effect his herculean drug intake had on them. Dando was pushing the self-destruct button from the minute he formed The Lemonheads as a punk band from the same fertile Boston scene that spawned Pixies. They first broke up in 1987, after a chaotic hometown gig where Dando insisted upon playing sections of Guns N'Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine during every song. But while Lemonheads line-ups remained fluid, Dando sharpened his songwriting skills on a triumvirate of albums for indie label Taang!. Atlantic picked up the band for 1990's patchy Lovey, which featured his first great song, Ride With Me, an acoustic version of which is included here. While his voice is indistinct, Dando has a flair for bruised melancholy that stands comparison with his chief inspirations, Gram Parsons and Alex Chilton. It's a fact re-emphasised by the acoustic versions tracks he recorded as B-sides, such as Into Your Arms and Down About It which round off this set. It's A Shame About Ray was Dando's most complete artistic statement. The highlights of that album - the wistful title track, the sparky power pop of Confetti, the punked-up cover of Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson - are the best of this one. It was downhill from there. 1993's Come On Feel The Lemonheads was allegedly recorded in a blizzard of cocaine and crack and sounded like it, Big Gay Heart and Great Big No being flimsy, throwaway country rockers. Dando at least retained his sense of fun on It's About Time, getting his famously celibate girlfriend/ex-bandmate Juliana Hatfield to sing backing vocals on a song he'd written about her. Three years on, the whimsical The Outdoor Type off Car Button Cloth was equally ingratiating. But as the knockabout It's All True and Hospital show, by then Dando was functioning on autopilot. Where he goes from here is anybody's guess.
Robin Grant - The Lantern 22nd September 1998
Catchy tunes and melodies laced with fresh lyrics create a distinct sound on the newly released "The Best of the Lemonheads-the Atlantic Years." Some of the tracks are better suited to lead singer Evan Dando`s voice than others, but overall the CD captures some of the best of the Lemonheads` tunes.
Track one, "Confetti," starts the album off with a fast pace and a very catchy tune. The lyrics themselves explain the plot of the song best, "He kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved her if he could have." The lyrics are almost indecipherable, but I soon found myself singing along. Much of the CD turned out to be similar.
One of the more recognizable tunes on the CD that got a lot of radio airtime is track three, "Into Your Arms." A repetitive song with decent lyrics, this one gets in your head and plays over and over. "Into your arms, whoa, into your arms, oh, into your arms I can go..."
The Lemonheads cover of "Mrs. Robinson" also received a decent amount of radio time, and can be found on the "best" CD. This remake of the Simon and Garfunkel tune gets a hipper, faster, more rockish face-lift from the Lemonheads, giving it an updated, `90s kind of feel.
In a more slow twist, the last track, "Ride with Me," has a mellow, almost Pink Floyd-esque kind of sound. The music to this song is acoustic, which is in definite contrast to the other tunes on the album, adding depth and soul to the CD. The song is well suited for Dando`s voice and the acoustic guitar mixes well with the lyrics.
Members of the Lemonheads have changed many times over the group`s 12-year existence. The only original member to remain throughout the years is Dando, who formed the group in high school in 1986. In 1990 the Lemonheads signed with Atlantic records and in 1992 released the album "It`s a Shame About Ray," which contained the hit cover "Mrs. Robinson." In 1993, the song "Into Your Arms" was also a hit and appeared on their follow-up album, "Come On Feel the Lemonheads."
You don`t have to be a previous fan to enjoy "The Best of the Lemonheads." The album has that groovin` rock feel with an almost universal appeal. A decent compilation of their past hits, this CD is a must-hear.
David Benedict - Melody Maker 1998
Fame, fame, fatal fame plays hideous tricks on the brain and rock history is littered with the pretty corpses of those who've fallen by the wayside. It's a cruel culture that grabs hungrily for the next big thing one minute and spits it out the next. But is it the case for Lemonheads' Evan Dando?
Taken from the four albums the one-time college rock pin up recorded for Atlantic over a period of six years (he'd made three for Boston indie label Taang!), the songs on this "farewell to Atlantic" collection might easily have all come from the same record. It's the kind of music made for driving or crying into your beer to; in other words, great pop music. Look a little harder though and see the fragility that left Evan a casualty of extended rock'n'roll binges.
In some senses his druggy gooning echoes the prat falls of pre-"Angels" Robbie Williams - professional ligging and arsing about with Oasis (his much-hyped collaboration with Noel, Purple Parallelogram, never made it onto vinyl, it was rumoured at Mr Gallagher's request). Even at the height of his critical and commercial success (1992's wonderful It's A Shame About Ray, which contained the muscular yet perfunctory romp through Simon & Garfunkel classic Mrs Robinson, their only sizeable hit in the UK), he was already fading out. My Drug Buddy echoes the darker moments of Rem's Out Of Time and finds our dog-eared hero "too much with myself, I wanna be someone else", while elsewhere he's "like a ship without a rudder" (Rudderless).
Come On Feel The Lemonheads in 1993 was a robust if less subtle follow up, yielding Into Your Arms and the goofily well-intentioned liberalism of Big Gay Heart. Pulled down by partying too hard, Evan wasn't to surface again for three years. His final Atlantic album, Car Button Cloth wasn't quite the career turnabout that Robbie pulled off but that it appeared at all was a surprise to everyone: "I've been falling down since I learned to walk" sang Evan defiantly on the self-explanatory It's All True. Neatly, he'd already written his band's own epitaph "It's a shame about Ray/in the stone under the dust/his name is still engraved". Remember him for that, rather than the druggy gooning or the luminous good looks. Cheek bones are never enough, the songs are. Let's hope he makes it back.
Ryan Schreiber - Pitchfork Media 1998
Remember the early 1990s when alternative rock still had a soul? Juliana Hatfield, the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, Jane's Addiction, Pavement, and naturally, the Lemonheads were the bands of the moment, and you were goddamned cool if you listened to 'em. They were days when your local modern rock station (if you had one at all) possessed actual credibility and played stuff you were genuinely interested in. Of course, nothing lasts forever; that lovable, indefinable genre was quickly transformed into "grunge," and its twangy, chorused life force was sucked dry by the corporate behemoth. That's when we came up with "indie cred." And at the time, the Lemonheads had scads of it.
The band's first few albums, released on seminal alternative label Taang! Records, were closer to hard- edged pop- punk (a la Hüsker Dü and the Replacements), but once the band signed to Atlantic, they started to soften up considerably. That was fine by us alternative rock fans, though-- they were merely trading lo-fi guitars for beautiful, shimmering pop. Their Atlantic debut, Lovey, proved decent enough; it spawned their classic "Ride With Me" and the unforgettable "Stove." But the album was a serious period of transistion for Dando & Co, and thus, a bit lackluster. The big payoff, of course, came with 1992's blissful It's A Shame About Ray.
Ray had it all: good looks, great melodies, terrific songs, consistency, and "alternativeness." The critics and fans loved it, it got lots of radio play on weekly alt-rock radio shows, it got rotation on MTV, and it sold lots of copies. Ray, along with Jane's Addiction's Ritual De Lo Habitual and Nirvana's Nevermind, broke alternative music into the mainstream.
The band found more commercial success with Ray's follow-up, Come On Feel The Lemonheads, whose hit singles "Into Your Arms" and "It's About Time" were virtually unavoidable during the fall of 1993. But the next few years proved alt-rock's days were numbered, and by the release of 1996's Car Button Cloth, the Lemonheads were as tapped out as Seattle's music scene.
So, it's Autumn again, which means that Christmastime is near, and that we're ready to tackle this year's slew of greatest hits collections. The Best of the Lemonheads: The Atlantic Years does exactly what it's supposed to do by tossing all the band's classics together on one disc. You've got "It's A Shame About Ray," "Confetti," "Mrs. Robinson," "My Drug Buddy," "The Great Big No," "Big Gay Heart," and every other Lemonheads track that ever got airplay.
The album's biggest flaw is that it collects only The Atlantic Years, avoiding all the great songs from the Taang! days. Also, The Atlantic Years only gave us two truly memorable albums, and if you subtract the songs on The Best of the Lemonheads that are pulled off those two records, it leaves you with... three tracks: an acoustic version of Lovey's "Ride With Me," and "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You," and "It's All True" from Car Button Cloth.
Ultimately, The Best of the Lemonheads: The Atlantic Years is an album for twenty- something factory workers looking to reminisce about their glory days as the captains of America's high school football teams. Real music fans might wanna get with it and just pick up Hate Your Friends, It's A Shame About Ray and Come On Feel The Lemonheads.
S Baldwin - The Phantom Toolbooth 1998
Among the few Boston-based bands to really break big in the Nineties, The Lemonheads first came to national attention in 1992 when their rambunctious cover of Simon & Garfunkel's song "Mrs. Robinson" received heavy rotation on radio stations from coast to coast. (Coincidentally, that song wasn't intended for inclusion on their CD and was actually absent from the very first pressing.) Their success on the so-called alternative scene that immediately followed was buoyed by their own hits, including "Rudderless," "Confetti," and the title track to It's a Shame About Ray, all of which make the requisite reappearances on this compilation.
Like Karl Wallinger is to World Party, Evan Dando, as the lead guitarist, vocalist, and only song-writer, is the real name behind The Lemonheads--with all due respect to his friend David Ryan who banged drums on most of the albums. A successful solo artist in her own right and the darling of the Boston music scene, Juliana Hatfield contributed bass and BGV's as a part-time, honorary Lemonhead. It was Dando, however, that got all the attention, and his boyish good looks soon made him the new poster pin-up boy--a move which ruined some of his credibility among the original "alternative scenesters" that first embraced his music. Just a bit too different for pop mainstream radio and becoming too accessible and popular for college radio formats, The Lemonheads were a band that deserved more attention than they got. The thing that everyone can not dismiss is just how good the songs actually were despite the polished made-for-MTV image that went with them. This new collection testifies that Dando knew how to write catchy, accessible songs by the bucketful: sweet and pop-smart, melodic and memorable, without ever being saccharine or just plain stupid.
Building their sound on the standard mix of guitar, bass and drums, The Lemonheads songs are unpretentiously simple. Take the sound of vintage R.E.M. songs, and tweak them into more rowdy pop territory, and you have The Lemonheads's formula for instant song satisfaction. Twelve examples are included here, with the heaviest emphasis appropriately on songs from their first full-length and most successful album both critically and fiscally, It's a Shame About Ray. In fact, nearly half of this compilation is devoted to songs from it. The 1993 follow-up album, Come On Feel The Lemonheads offers only four, including the big hit single, "Into My Arms." After that album, The Lemonheads disappeared for a few years, re-emerging with Car Button Cloth in 1996, which didn't do half as well as expected. Accordingly, only two hits, "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You" and "It's All True," are the only repeats. The Lemonheads's 1991 EP, Favorite Spanish Eyes is represented by only one song, "Ride with Me," which serves as the album's more melancholy closer.
The Lemonheads's songs fall mostly in the category of benign love tales and slightly absurd views of the malaise of life through suburban sunglasses. The overall happy sound often disguises deeper truths, but Dando, though clever, will never be accused of being profoundly deep. What he does do well, however, is engender hearty sing-along soirees. On "Rudderless" when he sings repeatedly, "a ship without a rudder is like a ship without a rudder is like a ship without a rudder," Dando sounds appropriately lost at sea, which is the point. The listener is pulled in and compelled to sing right along with him like a fellow seafarer longing for something more than he has found.
Of particular concern to Christians and moralists is the content of two songs. The first, "My Drug Buddy" (originally listed as just "Buddy"), revels in a relationship with a drug sharing friend. Whereas the song does not explicitly advocate drug use, it is a poignant reminder that people with broken lives often find their only satisfying relationships among their drugged peers instead of the Church that has shunned them. The other, "Big Gay Heart," has an explicit reference to oral sex between men. The song itself clearly operates from the perspective that homosexuality is acceptable, but the story is more about the friendship between a straight and a homosexual male. From that viewpoint, it serves as a gentle reminder that more Christians could afford to befriend gay men (or women for that matter), thus potentially bridging rather than widening the cultural gap between these two camps. On the other hand, some fans will disapprove of this song simply because it makes uncharacteristic use of a slide guitar, resulting in a more country-vibe than most Lemonheads fare.
With only 37 minutes of music and no new material, this disc begs the question: Why weren't more songs from these four albums included? Granted, all the biggest hits are here and paltry few extras, but there are plenty of others that could have been added to give a wise consumer their real money's worth. Among them: "Rockin' Stroll," "Bit Part," and a personal favorite, "Alison's Starting to Happen," all from ...Ray, and from the under-represented Car Button Cloth: "Hospital," "Break Me," "Outdoor Type," and "C'mon Daddy."
In its present condition, this disc only functions as:
A brief but worthy introduction for someone who never discovered the wonders of The Lemonheads
A collector's item for the most die-hard fans.
For the rest of us, this collection merely gathers most of their best in one convenient location. Although this makes for an enjoyable listening experience, it does nothing to contribute to their canon or entice the informed buyer who already has the original albums. Yet the quality of the offered tracks does deserve real, repeated attention, and grants another opportunity to sing-along. Happy (Lemon)head-bobbing optional.