Reviews of Come On Feel The Lemonheads
David Sinclair - Q September 1993
It seems a quaint idea now, but there was a time when being a "serious" rock band didn't necessarily mean carting a ton of attitude everywhere you went. In the'60s, happy-go-lucky types like the Lovin' Spoonful flourished alongside the heaviest hippies, and, in the '70s, The Ramones combined unimpeachable punk credentials with cuddly good humour. Now, like a daisy pushing through the surface in the post-grunge wasteland, The Lemonheads have come into bloom with an album which retains a modern guitar trio edge, but trades on a benevolent strain of wide-eyed affection instead of the usual witches' brew of snarling aggression. Evan Dando seems to have hit a purple patch. As a writer he is now bashing out memorable tunes by the yard, while his singing has taken on an appealing new resonance, the voice of a man secure in the knowledge that he no longer has to shout to catch people's attention. Often loud but never angry, songs like The Great Big No, Rest Assured, Dawn Can't Decide and Style combine a nimble melodic touch with punk-inspired propulsion. Juliana Hatfield has been replaced on bass by Nic Dalton (David Ryan remains on drums), but her backing vocals feature prominently on several tracks, notably Paid To Smile, a typically buoyant tune tinged with a slight air of melancholy, and It's About Time, a number which Dando wrote for her in the first place. There are 15 quick songs in all, lots of them acoustic, and some simply too light to last long in a stiff breeze. I'll Do It Anyway, with its revving harmony chorus and cheesy, '60s-surf guitar solo, is a song which Dando wrote for Belinda Carlisle, and it sounds like it (indeed, Carlisle supplies backing vocals). Being Around - which featured in their live sets last year - is a throwaway country rag which only just avoids sounding as twee as a James Taylor song thanks to the whimsical humour of the lyrics ("If I was your body would you still wear clothes?/If I was a booger would you blow your nose?"). Another acoustic guitar and pedal steel number, Big Gay Heart, fares better, its gentle touch again bolstered by the harder tone of the lyric ("I don't need you to suck my dick or to make me feel good about myself"). The one point at which the mood of the album seriously darkens is a compelling track called Rick James Style. A reprise of Style, featuring James on backing vocals, it's a twitchy exploration of the classic druggy's dilemma - "I don't want to get stoned but I don't want to not get stoned" - sung with an air of croaky exasperation that suggests a moodier side to the easygoing Dando persona. But for the most part Come On Feel The Lemonheads continues in the sprightly songsmith direction signalled by last year's breakthrough album, It's A Shame About Ray. Content to leave the stretching of envelopes and smashing of barriers to their more raucous peers, Lemonheads have produced a scruffy rock-pop album that is as loveable as it is listenable.
Paul Moody - NME 9th October 1993
First, the good news: this album will drive people mad. For Evan Dando, deeply dippy, crack smokin', high priest of slackerdom, has actually managed to create the perfect pop album his interviews have been telling us about all year. Which is sort of weird. Because from doe-eyed dreamer under pink blankets in Oz (Evan as Chippendale) to grinning loon splashing around in the surf in LA (Evan as airhead) the subtext has always been the same - that underneath it all, the pressure of being pinned to bedroom walls for 12 months was getting too much for Boston's dry-throated king
of sleepwalking cool.
And just as the grumbling mass of cynics had finally worked out a way to incarcerate him for ever on charges of being, a) David Cassidy (oh pleeaase) or, b) a one-off great album maker, he comes back with the glorious splurge of melody that is 'Come On Feel...'. The gilt-edged get-out-of-jail-free card.
Don't expect the earth. We are dealing with a man, remember, whose idea of genuine emotional trauma revolves around the loss of a T-shirt when you break up with your girl/boyfriend, after all ('Favourite T'). Its just that when the tunes are fine, The Lemonheads' soppy fizzed-up takes on pop-grunge haven't got a single peer you could glimpse without binoculars. The opening The Great Big No' says it all. The drums and guitar clatter over themselves furiously, a huge smile of a tune emerges within 30 seconds and Evan as ever drops in a lyric (shared with Juliana Hatfield) that suggests floods of tears, smashed plates and break-ups, and ends nonchalantly resigned and somehow happier for it. It's a warm up for 'Into Your Arms' (a peculiar first single choice seeing as its bubblegum love-stuff feel, care of its author Robyn St Clare, can only inflame the dreamboat caucus) but it's wonderful nonetheless, and as near to mid-summer romance as early October is ever likely to get.
'It's About Time' (favourite line: "Patience is like bread I say i ran out of it yesterday') and 'Down About It' are both splendid journeys into self-doubt; a late night 'Drug Buddy' and a Buzzcocks-esque neurotic pop thrill respectively, but they're immediately overshadowed by 'Paid To Smile' - with its remarkably clear-headed lyric: "The cigarette girl took off her tray/And dropped her dress in a shiny pile" - and the much discussed (and Evan's favourite) 'Big Gay Heart'. Both display a tenderness and soft Gram Parsons twang that elevate them way beyond the razored-edge chiming we
expect from the Lemonheads and onto a perpetual orbit inside your head.
The flipside comes with 'Style', which finds Evan kicking against the prickles of fame, and even against the world weariness it instils in him, by flooding the song with an endless litany of contrary demands over the most bloodshot chord-chugging he'll ever be tempted into ("Don't want to get stoned/But I don't want to not get stoned"). Normal service - not, incidentally, what we're after - returns with 'Rest Assured' which turns away at the last minute just as it's about to collide head on with 'Confetti', and suffers accordingly, but the marvellously 'Bandwagonesque'-esque 'Dawn Can't Decide' ensures the slip into Dando-by-numbers is quickly averted, complete with a Banana Splits "Baba ba-ba" vocal from Juliana.
Strangely, all such notions of formula are blown out of the water by the bizarre and slightly great 'Rick James Style', where the scattershot rage of earlier is transformed by James himself into a Doors-ian dabble with drugged up psychosis-delia, smothered in Hammond organ and reversing 'Revolver' guitar solos. After which Evan heads country again ('Being Around'), loses his marbles ('Favourite T'), writes one last great melody-line ('You Can't Take It With You') and signs off with, of all things, a brief rumble along a grand piano ('The Jello Fund'), presumably in reference to the Trust Fund that awaits him once pop stardom slips out of the back door one day when he's at the beach.
In essence, then, 'Come On Feel The lemonheads' is all it purports to be: a chance to dip into Evan's jumbled-up, dope-smoking love-buggy of a life and celebrate it while we can, before things get too heavy and stop working out. As Evan would no doubt tell you himself, why spend your life under a cloud when you can pack up your jeans, T-shirt and sneakers and be somewhere on the other side of the world if you try hard enough.
Time, then, to behold one of pop's great dreamers. Long may he doze. 9/10
Lorraine Ali - Rolling Stone 25th November 2003
Though the Lemonheads have long been hailed by college-rock geeks, the Boston trio's mainstream buzz has come via singer-guitarist Evan Dando's dimples. Babe-o-licious cover shots of Dando on countless magazines have attracted starry-eyed fans who would probably love the 26-year-old even if he sang like Barney.
On the band's fifth album, Come On Feel the Lemonbeads, Dando delivers clever wordplay and deep, harmonious vocals. On "Paid to Smile" he recognizes the landslide of poster-boy press he's gotten, then brushes it off. He would rather sing about everyday stuff, like how water goes down the drain backward in Australia, the loss of favorite T-shirts to former lovers and how it must feel to be a girl with razor stubble on your legs. The music surrounding these minitales is mainly melodic pop with a new-found country flavor, but like Dando, these sounds would rather have spur-of-the-moment fun than evoke deep passion.
Weepy steel guitar by legendary Sneaky Pete, once of the Flying Burrito Brothers, fills the pretty ballad "Big Gay Heart," the band's nod to Gram Parsons; the song wants to be sad but can't stop smirking. The Lemonheads seem too well-balanced to purge dysfunctional feelings and can't help clowning, even with song titles, to liven up emotional lulls.
The band thrives on bouncy power-pop songs like the quirky, acoustic "Being Around" and the off-the-cuff "You Can't Take It With You," on which Dando cracks up, laughing midnote like a stoned high-school kid.
Though Come On is the group's strongest album yet, it confirms that the Lemonheads, like all pinups, are primarily for fun. 4 stars
David Cavanagh - Select November 1993
Behold, the sweet trolley arriveth. The only problem about loving the Lemonheads is that there hasn’t been enough new stuff over the last 18 months. ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ takes 29 minutes and 24 seconds to listen to in its entirety, so anyone planning to overdose on it would probably be laughed out of casualty. Which is why your first reaction to hearing ‘Come On Feel The Lemonheads’ (a 15-tracker) ought to, wow, it’s a lot more substantial. This is not just a trick of the numbers; Dando’s actually out-written ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ and delivered a great one.
You have to imagine even more tuneful songs than ‘Ray’, significantly crunchier and more electrically guitar-led, and with more interesting diversions. Dando’s voice is stronger, too, sounding like Mark Eitzel on ‘You Can Take It With You’. Also, there are lots of little touches to add to the sense of occasion. Dando’s left in a lot of studio chat to make it more of a party. ‘Dawn Can’t Decide’ has him calling out the chords as part of the lyrics, and ‘Rest Assured’ features an exhilarating “one-two-three-four!” on the slope down into the chorus. And throughout, Dando’s descanted by the sort of penthouse harmonies only a person of Juliana Hatfield’s squeakiness can provide.
It starts mag-nif-icently with ‘The Great Big No’, the breeziest and uncanniest bully-off to an album this side of the into to ‘The Headmaster Ritual’. God that’s good, you think. Well, keep thinking, because the whole first side verges on the flawless. ‘Into Your Arms’ (the first single) has a simple two-note guitar motif all the way through that’s as ingenious as a cat flap. ‘Paid To Smile’ could almost be a Hatfield song – about the inane things some women are expected to do for money – but ‘It’s About Time’ and ‘Big Gay Heart’ are total Dando: the first dropping lines like “enough about us, let’s talk about me” and “have your people contact me/and keep your lawyer on the line”. Breaking up songs should never start “I read her note/she left it by the phone”, which is what most people do, and Dando’s way above that. “Big Gay Heart” is the album’s oddest song, but if he means what we think he means, then we think he means it; please don’t break his big gay heart. It’s a country song, by the way.
Side two is more varied. ‘I’ll Do It Anyway’ and ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ are good ‘Heads tunes; ‘Dawn Can’t Decide’ is even better; ‘Being Around’ is a country version of the B-side of ‘Mrs Robinson’; and ‘Favorite T’ is a deliciously detailed song about a guy who likes trying on his girlfriend’s clothes while she’s out, and knows he’s on borrowed time as the relationship’s going sour. ‘Rick James Style’ is a smokey, New Orleans-y version of a song on side one called ‘Style’, which is a guaranteed populist classic. A song that basically goes: “I don’t wanna get stoned/But I don’t wanna not get stoned”, when they play festivals again this will fill the field. ‘The Jello Fund’, a bizarre piano interlude from Dando, is the last track.
And so you may have call to flip it over. It’s a joy to hear a songwriter getting his craft so right, and no disrespect to the other ‘Heads (Nic Dalton, bass, and drummer David Ryan) but Dando’s mixing most of the cocktails here. He needed to do something pretty good to tip ‘Ray’, and he has. And this time it lasts 40 minutes and 58 seconds. Get in there.
Mike Pattenden - Vox November 1993
Production on this sixth album was run up to the last minute, with Evan Dando putting down vocals very late due to throat problems, but there's no hint of it sounding rushed or pressured. Such words don't exist in the man's laid-back lexicon. The material here feels instantly familiar, much of it having been filtered into a touring schedule which included triumphant sets at Glastonbury and Reading this summer. Passing acquaintances already sound like old friends, and Come On... comes on like a Greatest Hits set from the first chord of 'The Great Big No', its opening track.
Everything here - bar the stoned-at-the-piano indulgence of 'The Jello Fund' - feels immediate and instant, and as such Come On... is a natural successor to Its A Shame About Ray. Unsurprisingly it shares a similar Antipodean lineage-Tom Morgan receives a credit for halt the tracks here, and it was written in Sydney early this year. Even the cover version and first single plucked from the album, a chiming love song called `Into Your Arms', is taken from obscure Aussie band, Love Positions. It's also one of three songs here which have turned up as acoustic B-sides on single releases, adding to the sense of familiarity.
Juliana Hatfield is firmly in evidence again, most notably on `It's About Time', the song Dando wrote for her and first played to her, Richie Valens-style, down the telephoner. She materialises three-quarters of the way through it with the line-word- "sunshine", and instantly gives the whole thing such a radiant intensity that you want to punch the air. Later Dando performs the same trick with Belinda Carlisle on `I'll Do It Anyway', outlining his own go-for-it ideologue: "Its a beautiful world": `Style' is an echo of earlier Lemonheads, coming on like the ultimate slacker paean: a cluster of double negatives-"/ don't wanna get stonedll don't wanna not get stoned" attached to some crunching riffs. It's reprised later in horizontal-style with Rick James adding a touch of sleaze for good measure. 'Big Gay Heart', a protest against anti-gay violence, treads a thin fine between condescending sentimentality and heartfelt sincerity. Naturally Dando pulls it off, aided by Sneaky Pete, who adds the sort of pedal steel that just gnaws at your heartstrings.
Fifteen songs, well twelve and-a-half, stamped with a hallmark of simplicity and resonance usually only attributed to the Lennon and McCartneys of this world. Want to bet they don't last as long?
Vox January 1994
Vox's number 1 rock album of 1993
Following the success of It's A Shame About Ray, Evan Dando found time in a seemingly incessant touring schedule this year to assemble the same cast of players and producers and pull off the same trick twice. Come On... is a rampant mix of power pop and sweet ballads that reconfirm Dando's songwriting credentials. Juliana Hatfield pops up once more to lend her sweet tones on backing vocals and had a song dedicated to her for her trouble ("It's About Time"), while Belinda Carlisle and Rick James also got to join in the fun. The chiming chords of "Into Your Arms", written by former Hummingbird Robyn St Clare, gave him his biggest hit to date, but it was the anti gay-bashing lament "Big Gay Heart" with its knawing pedal steel from Burrito Sneaky Pete Kleinlow that stands out as the album's finest moment. If Dando can resist the temptation not to not get stoned Gram Parsons-style, then his star can only continue to rise.
Matthew Fritch - Magnet Magazine June 2003
If The Lemonheads ever created a great misunderstood album, this is it. Come On Feel was slotted to repeat the commercial success of Ray with radio results but is instead filled with a curious mush of inside jokes and cutesy ballads. Of the fluff, there's insipid love song "Into Your Arms", the jokey "Being Around" ("if I was a booger, would you blow your nose?") and can-we-get-along country ditty "Big Gay Heart". But it's the songs featuring vocals harmonies by Juliana Hatfield that give Come On Feel its unmistakable sexual tension and melodic release. Unpredictably, the LP features a slam on the music-biz lackies ("Paid To Smile") and ends with an atonal piano instrumental ("The Jello Fund"). Unmistakable sign of debauchery: "Rick James Style", doubling Dando singing "I'm not gonna not get stoned".