Reviews of Car Button Cloth
Danny Ecclestone - Q September 1996
The title refers to an experiment Evan Dando was asked to perform for a Second Grade "science" project: fill a bath, select three objects, observe which sank and which didn't. Dando chose a toy racing car, a piece of cloth and a button. They all sank. Always prepared to let the tiny detail tell the big story, it's a very Dando metaphor. Spells in rehab have punctuated his life since the release of 1993's Come On Feel The Lemonheads. Months spent stalking Oasis around Europe briefly made him rock's most public embarrassment. His solo tour of '95 proved a farrago of tics and eccentricities, missing his arranged slot at Glastonbury's acoustic tent, eventually to outstay his welcome in front of an audience baying for Portishead. car button cloth is full of pointers to those bad days. "There's something missing from my life", hollers the overwhelming Something Missing, repeatedly, with Dando, straining to be heard above the meanest band he's ever assembled, finding something like the voice of Kurt Cobain and reminding us that for all his goofy blondness, alleged independent wealth and jauntier gib, Dando's songs have similarly failed to blink at the dulled tragedy and lost bearings of slackerdom. This time though, it's personal, exponentially darker, with the coagulated Losing Your Mind and the superficially blithe Hospital (full of "green, green leaves falling from the trees") mining autobiographical fears. It's gripping in a way that the crafty, but ultimately trite C'mon Feel The Lemonheads wasn't. car button cloth's supporting cast includes Cobain-endorsed Scot and ex-Vaseline Eugene Kelly (co-composer of this album's first single, If I Could Talk I'd Tell You) and brutish Dinosaur Jr drummer "Murph", with co-songwriting succour lent by Epic Soundtracks, Smudge's Tom Morgan but not Noel Gallagher, whose dim Purple Parallelogram collaboration was legally barred from "gracing" the final LP. Together they've conspired to make an alcoholic racket, perfunctorily engineered and perfectly suited to the punchy, self-dissatisfied mood set by Dando. Even the throwaway stuff leaves a bitter, disorientating taste: Knoxville Girl's bloody, trad arr murder ballad, 6ix's retreading of serial slaughter movie Seven and the out-and-out Metallica impression of closing instrumental, Secular Rockulidge. The last is indication enough of how perverse a record this is. There's barely a trace of the Dando of It's A Shame About Ray barring his enduring mastery of the heady leap from verse into chorus, and what is left is an awkward but magnetically honest instance of mental spring-cleaning, as Black Sabbath as it is Burrito Brothers. One hopes he's feeling better now.
Ted Kessler - From NME 28th September 1996
For one so royally f---ked up, Evan Dando’s a very tidy craftsman. Perhaps it’s the one focal point in the aching blur of his life. Perhaps it explains and excuses the mess he’s made of day-to-day pop stardom, sweeps away the worst excesses of his semi-tragic celebrity buffoonery.
But caressing the sharp, rhythmic lines and upward curves of melodic loveliness that fatten ‘Car Button Cloth’ it’s easy to forget Dando’s recent history. It’s hard to credit, for instance, the scene a year ago in which Evan Dando is standing handcuffed, tripping on acid, and bleeding in Sydney Airport insisting the police release him so he can retrace his steps around the globe to find his mind. He’d lost it on the way in, you see, and knew it was still out there somewhere.
So ‘Car Button Cloth’ smacks a guilty conscience hard. It embarrasses the memory of how easy it was to laugh at Evan as he stumbled on stage with Oasis, banging a tambourine and dribbling beer down his front during record-shop instores. It shames scurrilous notions that there was anything more to the photos of Dando and Kurt Cobain’s widow in bed together than stupid drug buddydom. And it reminds you how quickly we all forgot the wholesome sweetness of his songs and instead dwelled on his slow and public self-demolition.
This, then, his seventh Lemonheads album, is the story of a trust-funded, former crack-smoking, ex-junkie pop star from Boston who became the most roundly ridiculed man in rock simply for looking cute and acting dopey, and how he emerged with his soul scarred but his talent intact. It’s not quite as astounding a resurrection as Shaun Ryder’s, and at times the ride’s a little rugged, but it’s a pretty nimble escape all the same.
And don’t expect the earth, because this is a story that runs out of steam halfway through. After an opening burst of seven delightfully conceived songs things start to sag somewhat and – bar a couple – the remaining six songs sound more like B-sides compared with the brilliance that’s preceded them. You can see Evan’s shoulders drooping halfway through as the toll of telling his story hits home. Remember, this is a man whose biggest trauma on his last album revolved around the loss of a favourite T-shirt when his girlfriend split.
We’re posted a clear a sign of Evan’s present emotional state with the last line of the first song, ‘It’s All True’. As the jaunty country-rock coda is rejoined one last time Evan sighs, ‘I don’t wake up with a sudden start, but with empty arms and a broken heart.’ This loneliness can at least be vocalised, however, unlike the solitude he speaks of in the undiluted Lemon pop ‘If I Could Talk I’d Tell You’ where he recounts the woe of being interviewed whilst unable to talk through crack abuse. He ends the song whistling the gentle hookline, proving there’s hope for us all.
Elsewhere there’s the funerally-paced blues explosion of ‘Losing Your Mind’ – only Brian Wilson has written songs about madness that sounds a softly beautiful and sad as this. This only time Evan’s voice cracks on the album is here as he sings, “Tired, tired, tie a knot and try to untie it/Just can’t decide if I should lie/Or tell the truth and try to hide it,” over and over and over again. Until fade. And we laughed at him…
He tries to provide light relief with a version of a traditional country song, ‘Knoxville Girl’, but instead this is where ‘Car Button Cloth’ first hits choppy waters. ‘6is’ is a flabby wade through distortion that’s apparently about Gwyneth Paltrow’s severed head in Seven; ‘One More Time’ sounds like the sort of thing leather-capped rocking buskers knock out on the underground and the closing instrumental ‘Secular Rockulidge’ is pretty ugly metal. Only the soft-focus country of ‘C’mon Daddy’ holds things up at this end of the show.
But there’s a trio of songs soon after the album’s dawn for which any later laziness can be forgiven. ‘Break Me’ is a song of spectacular longing and the record’s highlight; ‘Hospital’ is prime dinky Dando and speaks gently and tunefully of – perhaps – institutionalised madness; while his reading of Smudge’s ‘The Outdoor Type’ wears a huge, shaggy, self-deprecating grin. “I can’t go away with you on a rock climbing weekend,” he croons as the song lollipops away behind him, “what if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again?”
Unusually for an album this well-constructed, you leave worried about it’s author’s welfare. You hope that somewhere out there there’s someone in whom he can put his trust, someone who’ll look after him if things go haywire again. Evan Dando’s gentle and honest, but his soul is frightfully bruised. ‘Car Button Cloth’ is his sweet swoon for help.
Barney Hoskyns - Rolling Stone, October 1996
The news that Evan Dando was working on another Lemonheads album was originally greeted with, among other things, skepticism. Anyone familiar with the lanky Bostonian's goofy antics in the three years since Come on Feel the Lemonheads surely feared what could easily have been an embarrassing shambles. As it turns out, fans of the 1992 bubble-grunge classic It's a Shame About Ray need not worry. Dando has reapplied himself to the business of songwriting and recording with admirable acumen. In the tuneless climate of sub-Cobain mediocrity that is alternative rock, it's great to have Dando back.
Car Button Cloth is different from its two predecessors, both in terms of sound and scope. Gone are the acoustic guitars that dominated the last two albums; the music is now beefed up by the churning, dual-guitar electricity of Dando and Bill Gibson. Gone, too, is the uniformity of mood that made It's a Shame About Ray such a seamless listening experience. Perhaps the most startling development on Car Button Cloth is the degree to which Dando is prepared to risk being serious. "Break Me," "Losing Your Mind" and "Tenderfoot" are among the most intense and harrowing songs that he has ever committed to tape.
Other tracks are more playful (the vaguely disconcerting "Hospital") or more soulful ("C'mon Daddy" is loosely based on Liv Tyler's discovery of her true paternity) but without jarring Car Button Cloth's structure and flow. "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You" is charmingly upbeat, and "6ix," written by Dando after he saw the movie Seven, is a macabre slice of Ramone-arama. "Knoxville Girl" is a fine cover of the Appalachian murder ballad popularized by the Louvin Brothers. The album certainly does not suffer from the last-minute loss of the dopey drug ode "Purple Parallelogram," co-written with Noel Gallagher of Oasis (it was dropped from the record at the latter's insistence).
For Dando, reclaiming the credibility he enjoyed three years ago is a tall order. But with Car Button Cloth, he is more than halfway there.
Andy Gill - The Independent, 4th October 1996
With Car Button Cloth, grunge ennui becomes a spectator sport, as Evan Dando offers up a public mea culpa, as demanded by the American star system, for his dissolute crack 'n' smack lifestyle. Over here, contrary to manufactured tabloid outrage, we don't care overmuch about our stars' transgressions: Shaun Ryder can have a lost weekend lasting several years, never pretend to apologise, and we'll still listen if he comes up with a great album. In America, shame must be expressed, and dirty laundry hung out to flap in the breeze of public opinion.
What this means in practice for Dando is a series of admissions of hollowness and inadequacy with titles like "Something's Missing", "Break Me" and "Losing My Mind", sung with scant enthusiasm to the rock 'n' roll equivalent of naive art. Imagine if Jonathan Richman could experience embarrassment, and you're close to what The Lemonheads sound like here. Unfortunately for Dando, the most effective expression of nerd insularity here is a cover version of Tom Morgan's "The Outdoor Type", whose unworldly protagonist admits "I can't go away with you on a rock-climbing weekend / What if something's on TV and it's never shown again?". Now that's what I call sad.
Dan McGarry - Yale Herald, 31st October 1996
The official Lemonheads press biography instructs you to "crank up your stereos and hide your daughters--the Lemonheads are back!" car button cloth is their first full-length release after two years of respite and recovery that followed national overexposure ("Mrs. Robinson," "Into Your Arms") and arduous touring.
One of their interim projects involved appearing on the My So-Called Life soundtrack. That was a sappy, melodramatic show that found music to match from a sensitive-guy band like the Lemonheads. Most of the songs on car button cloth would fit a cheesy date movie even better, something like Singles or Reality Bites. The first single, "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You," would start to play just after some Brad Pitt storms off after a tiff with his Gwyneth Paltrow, and then instantly regrets his insensitivity as the song croons on about friendship and love and all that mushy stuff.
Lemonheads pilot Evan Dando has used his time off to mold his new role as dreamy-poet-hunk/rock star. Being chosen last year as one of People's 50 most beautiful people certainly didn't hurt, and neither did collaboration with fellow heartthrobs from Oasis and Spacehog. The songs on car button cloth make concerted efforts to be introspective. The Lemonheads' former lightheartedness has acquired maudlin gravity that borders on sickening. The sagging, standard pop arrangements suck the life out of promising songs like "C'mon Daddy" and "It's all True," though the nagging feeling persists that this time the lyrics might actually have some substance.
A bit of the old wit shines through at times, with lines like "Your place or Mein Kampf / Now I'm giving the dog a bone." "The Outdoor Type" features a wimpy narrator confessing his shortcomings to his significant other. He "can't grow a beard or even fight," and he can't go "away with [her] on a rock-climbing weekend / What if something's on TV and it's never shown again?"
With sobering lyrics sprinkled carelessly over a handful of chords, "Hospital" stands out in its ability to set a mood with words alone, almost regardless of the band. "Knoxville Girl" also deserves a second listen: this traditional country ballad conceals the story of a grisly murder in standard cowpoke whine. "Tenderfoot" also works, probably because it sounds more like old Lemonheads than anything else on the album. The lyrics, however, were written in the years off--lines like "I'm past the bleeding / It's not the tracks, it's where they're leading" and "I'll do it again, the error of my ways / Maybe one of these days" betray a darker sentimentalism born of reflection.
Now that he's finished rehab, Dando apparently is embracing the "poet" side of his persona more purposefully. A few years of soul-searching were bound to bring some changes in the finished product. Lemonheads fans will have no problem with car button cloth, but the rest of the world should get more than its fill from hearing "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You" all over MTV and its vassal radio stations across the country.
car button cloth broke into the charts at 130, somewhat disappointing for an established act like the Lemonheads. Maybe the producers hope to milk a third gold album out of Dando by capitalizing on his sex-symbol status as much as his music. As the official Press Biography puts it, "Hey ladies...he's alive...he's single," oh, and by the way, "he's got a new record!"
Steven Thomson - Onion AV Club 1996
The Lemonheads (and frontman Evan Dando in particular) faced a huge backlash after the release of 1994's Come On Feel The Lemonheads and the media overload that followed. And though Dando didn't handle fame well—he nearly killed himself with drugs, he acted coy and flaky in interviews, and he was ludicrously omnipresent on compilations and magazine covers—that doesn't take away from the fact that he still writes a hell of a pop song. Listen to 1993's It's a Shame About Ray, and you'll have a hard time thinking of a more perfect '90s pop record. The new Car Button Cloth is pretty good, too, though it emulates Come On Feel's tendency to wander off on plodding tangents (a leaden cover of the country standard "Knoxville Girl") and sodden ballads ("C'mon Daddy," a lyrically ambiguous collaboration with Epic Soundtracks). But tracks like "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You," "Break Me" and "It's All True" will make damn fine pop singles, and while Car Button Cloth's second half doesn't live up to its first, the album is still solid overall.
Bob Mehr - Magnet Magazine June 2003
The seventh and final Lemonheads album is a some-what underrated, if decidedly uneven swansong from one-man band Dando. A pair of irresistible janglers ("It's All True", "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You") mark a strong first half, as do the fractured lyrics and drug-damaged sentiments of "Hospital" and "Losing Your Mind". Unfortunately, Car Button Cloth sputters to a finish with the genuinely unbearable "C'mon Daddy" (about Liv Tyler's rapprochement with her father Steven) and throwaways like the Gweneth Paltrow namecheck "6ix" and faux-metal instrumental "Secular Rockulidge" - the remainder of the LP redeemed only by a cover of mountain murder balled "Knoxville Girl", which Dando infuses with appropriately brooding post-punk intensity. Definitely maybe: Original promo copies of the record featured a fairly slight Dando/Noel Gallagher co-write called "Purple Parallelogram", apparently removed last minute at the latter's insistence.
Mulberry Panda 96, October 2007
After three years of continued drug abuse, a stint in rehab, a role as Liv Tyler's boyfriend in the film Heavy, time spent hanging out on the road with Oasis, and appearances on albums like Mike Watt's Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, Kirsty MacColl's Galore, and the Empire Records soundtrack, Dando—and the Lemonheads— returned with Car Button Cloth. Dando was the only member left from the previous lineup, making this album, in some ways, his version of Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers or the Replacements' All Shook Down: a chance to give it one more try under his band's name before going solo. Joining him in the studio were Bill Gibson on bass and Patrick Murphy (a.k.a. Murph of Dinosaur Jr) on drums, with John Strohm rejoining the band on rhythm guitar for the tour.
Car Button Cloth, like any of the band's other non-Ray offerings up to that point, is a patchwork affair. (Dando himself has labeled most of the Lemonheads' albums as "schizophrenic.") It's still a great listen, partly thanks to well-chosen covers like Come On Feel writing partner Tom Morgan's "The Outdoor Type" and "Tenderfoot" (cowritten by Adam Young), but all those puzzle pieces behind the couch don't quite fit together. The album kicks off with two brilliant singles, "It's All True" and "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You" (download) , that might've piqued the curiosity of those aforementioned teenage girls if they were still listening (in their dorm rooms at this point), but the somewhat sinister "Break Me," "Hospital," and "Losing Your Mind" ("What a comfort to find out you're losing your mind / And you re-realize that it's not the first time")—and an electrified rendition of the murder ballad "Knoxville Girl"—demonstrate that Dando's no longer interested in being a Tiger Beat pinup.
The Lemonheads pleasantly kill some time with "6ix," a shout-out to Gwyneth Paltrow and Real People's Skip Stephenson, and "C'mon Daddy," inspired by Todd Rundgren in more ways than one. But as Dando says midway through the album, "Something's Missing" (download) ("I ain't quiet deep inside / I ain't even on my side"), and it's not just "Purple Parallelogram" (download) , a track he wrote with Noel Gallagher that was removed from Car Button Cloth at the last second at Gallagher's insistence. Dando says he didn't mind since he regarded the track as a throwaway at best.
Car Button Cloth is still my favorite Lemonheads album. Right around the time that my Great Big Todd Rundgren Obsession of 1996 was beginning to fade, my college roommate was given the album for Christmas, and I listened out of curiosity after reading an odd interview with Dando in Rolling Stone. My Great Big Obsession of 1997 had begun: after just a couple of listens I was a fan of Dando's vocals and songwriting, and I regretted my snap judgment of him as nothing but a pretty boy a few years earlier. I started winding my way backward through the Lemonheads' discography, and waited for news of their next album. It turned out I was in for a long, long wait.