Reviews of The Lemonheads (self-titled album)
Andy Gill – The Independent, 22nd September 2006
Ten years ago, on the last Lemonheads album Car Button Cloth, Evan Dando was apologising for his dissolute, druggie lifestyle, hanging his dirty laundry out to flap about in the breeze of public opinion. Having cleaned his act up, he made his solo debut in 2003 with Baby I'm Bored - and could still be found reflecting on his earlier fecklessness in songs like "Why Do You Do This To Yourself?". That album offered a broad church of styles and, while enjoyable enough, it made few ripples in the marketplace.
To further his aim of making "a rock record, a melodic rock record", Dando has revived the Lemonheads moniker and signed up drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, both veterans of Eighties American punk-rockers The Descendents. The result is a more focused, less varied sound, and none the worse for that. Tight and passionate, "Pittsburgh" could be by an American version of The Jam, while "Become The Enemy" could have been written at any time in the past 20 years, its catchy indie-pop setting providing a stable footing for Dando's account of a collapsing relationship - a theme to which he returns in the spunky rocker "No Backbone".
Dando has a peculiar gift for writing rock songs that sound as if they're covers of country songs, as ably demonstrated here in "Poughkeepsie" and "Baby's Home". The latter is particularly impressive, with its cuckolded narrator displaying a saintly equanimity until the final verse, which finds him outside the house, cradling a shotgun. A similar affinity for troubled emotional undercurrents is at the heart of the father/son conflict of "Steve's Boy", while "December" captures Dando at his sardonic best, kissing goodbye to yet another failed relationship.
A few unusual guest appearances lend quirky colour to some tracks, with Dinosaur Jr guitarist J Mascis and The Band's keyboardist Garth Hudson playing on a couple of tracks apiece. But such variety as they provide is only fleeting: it's probably Hudson playing the melancholy piano chords that open "Black Gown", but within a few bars the track has metamorphosed into a bustling, spiky rocker. Likewise, although "Let's Just Laugh" meanders in like the Grateful Dead starting off on one of their cosmic jams, it's swiftly knocked into more serviceable indie-rock shape, with the blithe resignation of Dando's voice and attitude at odds with the squall of his guitar break. Like the album as a whole, the song's appeal resides in its resolution of apparently incompatible forms, a rare gift that should be handled with care.
Adam Mazmanian - The Washington Times, 26th September 2006
Lemonheads squeeze out another
During the years of his greatest fame, Lemonheads' frontman Evan Dando seemed to have figured out the secret of enjoying the fruits of pop success without sacrificing indie rock credibility.
Like Nirvana and the other alternative bands that broke out in the late 1980s and early '90s, the Lemonheads successfully combined uncomplicated verse-chorus-verse major-key bubble gum with hard-edge punk-rock guitar to create a new pop amalgam that reached past punk's core audience of disaffected suburbanites and mainstream youngsters looking for a new generation of teen idols.
Now back with a small label (though one distributed by industry giant Interscope) Mr. Dando has returned to the mode that made him a critical darling. Unfortunately, the rock world has moved on a great deal since that time, but Mr. Dando remains defiantly in the musical era that briefly made him a star. Young listeners who are discovering the Lemonheads with this effort might think the group is just another band in the mold of Green Day, Weezer or a million other power-punk bands that Mr. Dando influenced.
The songs aren't bad; they're smoothly produced with listenable guitar hooks and a varied mix of tempos ranging from the slow-burning ballad to almost danceable radio-friendly singles. However, they bleed together into an unmemorable whole, with one song often harmonically undifferentiated from the one that follows.
There's a quaint irony in the Lemonheads finally releasing a self-titled album 20 years on the heels of their debut EP.
Still, it serves to remind that Mr. Dando's style was so completely absorbed into the pop mainstream that the 11 songs here feel like oldies. In "Steve's Boy," the narrator announces to his aging, distant and presumably ill father that he is going to be present in the father's life. In "Poughkeepsie," he reflects on the perspective of an artist's sardonic muse with the line, "Walking masterpiece of remembered pain/This teeming life has got you in its way/And I'm proud to be your lump of clay."
Mr. Dando delivers an alt-country take on the gonna-shoot-my-woman-down motif that has a rich musical history in tunes such as "See See Rider" and "Hey Joe" on the song "Baby's Home." Before it takes a hard narrative turn toward violence, it easily could be mistaken for a meditation on unequal love, with the line, "When a horse breaks a leg then it's best to shoot it/Cause it's quick and it eases the pain/But when a marriage is dying/Tell me who does the firing/And who is to say who's to blame."
Mr. Dando's lyrics have a deceptive stream-of-consciousness quality, as if they were tossed off quickly with an assist from a rhyming dictionary and a bottle of absinthe. But behind the power-punk guitar licks and the slightly downbeat vocal rasp, there is the stark and often startling confessional of an aging golden boy facing up to life without the sense that there is infinite time for the redemption of early promise. If there is a saving grace to "The Lemonheads," this is it.
Dan Barnes - In The News, 29th September 2006
In a nutshell
Well-crafted, melodic, rocking, country.
What's it all about?
The Lemonheads' first album in ten years and eighth album in 20 years is a kind of return to form from the group that were de rigueur at every 90s indie disco with It's a Shame About Ray and Mrs Robinson.
The group is really just Evan Dando – indie pin-up boy who's spent the last decade seemingly partying and being in rehab. Since the last Lemonheads album, Dando has released some a solo album and this new outing mixes the indie gangle and rock that the band are known for and the more chilled out country sound he put out under his own name.
Who's it by
On this eponymous outing for the Lemonheads, Dando is joined by Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson (both from the 80s US punk outfit the Descendents), meaning over the last 20 years over a dozen members have been drawn into the band. But basically it remains Dando's work, but Alvarez and Stevenson seem to push the tempo forward and add a little extra.
As an example…
Baby's Home – "My indecision is causing me pain. It's hard to conceal it and it's harder to name. But before I leave for work, here's some words that might hurt."
Likelihood of a trip to the Grammys
Well, Evan's not going to win any awards. It's nostalgia, but good nostalgia. It'll get good reviews because: (a) it's good, and (b) most reviewers grew up with the Lemonheads and wouldn't say a bad word against them.
It also means the 39-year-old Dando will be heading out on tour giving fans the chance to pretend they are young again.
What the others say
"It's good, at times very good. A welcome return." - Sunday Times
"There's a broken feeling about this album, a resignation that reflects the trouble of the intervening years." - The Guardian
So is it any good?
Well, it's Evan Dando. There is history there, even though it is almost 15 years ago since It's A Shame About Ray and Mrs Robinson came out, they still hit you with memories with just their mention. So why buy this and not dig out the old albums? Well what you get is the same good craftsmanship from a man who's cleaned himself up. You could live a good life without ever hearing this album, it's alright and not much more. The Lemonheads is far from groundbreaking but still a good album. It's a shame that it is not a great album.
While previous Lemonheads covers have had Dando's good looks on the cover, what you have with here is a grainy washed out image of Dando with a far off look in his eyes and in a sense the album is like that. There is the feeling that he has been through a lot and far from being reborn afresh, there is an infectious world-weariness. Even one of the most upbeat songs In Passing starts with the lines "Time goes by so very slowly" and Dando goes on to sing "If I knew that you were coming I'd have stayed awake".
His solo stuff was better, and if you buy this then Willy Mason's Where Humans Eat is well worth checking out for a younger more invigorated cynicism.
On the whole, this is short (35 minutes) and quite sweet. 6.8/10
Alex Brown - The Dickensonian, September 2006
If you haven’t heard of the Lemonheads, it’s understandable. They made a splash in 1992 with a hit cover of “Mrs. Robinson,” but the band hasn’t released a full album in a decade, as a result of front man Evan Dando seemingly falling off the face of the earth in 1997. Dando’s done some solo work since then and in 2005 he reformed the Lemonheads with several new members (like he did in 1996) drawn primarily from the punk band Descendents.
The time off must have been good for Dando, because The Lemonheads is a truly enjoyable album from start to finish. Though it starts to feel a little repetitive after the midway point, each track is fun and accessible and can stand on its own. Quick drumbeats and hand claps fill the record with a consistent energy and Dando’s smoky, laid-back vocals are complemented excellently by terrific guitar riffs.
The Lemonheads has several especially listenable cuts. The album starts out strong with “Black Gown,” a speedy track featuring Garth Hudson of the Band on keyboards. Next, Dando slows down to admonish a friend on the first single (and one of the best tracks), “Become The Enemy.” The catchy and confessional “Pittsburgh” is a solid tribute to the city. The depressing lyrics of “No Back Bone” and “Steve’s Boy” are brightened with the cheerful guitar work of Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis. Lastly, The Lemonheads finishes up with the a lengthy jam on “December.”
If you like Beck, Ben Kweller and/or the Killers, then you should give The Lemonheads a listen. The album hits stores this week, and Dickinson students can put an order in for it at the bookstore. Assumably, it’ll also be available for downloading in the iTunes store, or you could theoretically pirate it illegally, but you wouldn’t do that, would you? It would make you a criminal. You’re not a criminal, are you?
Sarah Rodman - The Boston Globe, September 2006
There's something about autumn that feels like the perfect time for a new Lemonheads record. The sun is still warm but darkness comes early, and even though you're excited to pull out your favorite sweater, you're a little bit sad, too. Juxtaposing brightness and melancholy is an Evan Dando special, and it winds comfortingly through the first album the locally bred singer-songwriter has released under the Lemonheads moniker since 1996, and the first since his equally autumnal and lovely 2003 solo effort ``Baby I'm Bored." For this eponymous effort, Dando returns to the trio format and comes up with an album that comes near the stem-to-stern quality of his 1992 breakthrough, ``It's a Shame About Ray." Drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, both late of the Descendants, lend muscle and volume but never overpower Dando's amiably ambling alt-pop tales. Dando drapes his still impressively warm and supple voice around 11 tracks that mix humor, heartache, and wordplay.
ESSENTIAL TRACK: ``Black Gown"
Scott Holter - amazon.com September 2006
Ten years between albums is a long time for a musician to sustain momentum, but when you're Evan Dando, it's a matter of doing again what you do best: Stick close to what got you here. Of course, this self-titled record comes nowhere near the early Lemonheads' mayhem of Creator or Lick, but it does bookend nicely with the 1993 delight Come on Feel the Lemonheads. Backed by drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, both ex of the Descendents and All, the album at times has a 110 mph feel, complemented by Dando's trademark rock-candy prose on songs like "Black Gown," "Pittsburgh" and "Rule of 3." But Dando's at his most fresh when he veers from the predictable—the country ramble of "Poughkeepsie" and the waltzing "Baby's Home," or when he lets loose J. Mascis for a stinging lead and solo guitar on "No Backbone." While this very well could be labeled a solo record for Dando, there's nothing wrong with the moniker that reminds us that the Lemonheads live on.
Dave Lake - Aversion September 2006
Evan Dando, how we have missed thee. Once one of al- rock's most intriguing figures, the Boston-raised baby-faced heartthrob has been laying low the past decade, releasing only a single solo disc (2003's Baby, I'm Bored) since the last Lemonheads record, 1996's uneven Car Button Cloth (Atlantic). But Dando's eighth album is a welcome return to form for one of the last decade's finest power pop songwriters.
The Lemonheads have always seemed less like a band and more like a catchy name for whatever assortment of backing musicians Dando felt like assembling. And that remains true here, only this time out Dando strays from collaborators similar in style to his own (Juliana Hatfield, Ben Lee) to make music with punk rock legends Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez of the Descendents and All. Also appearing are Garth Hudson of The Band and Boston buddy J Mascis, who's unmistakable guitar tone lights up a pair of tracks.
The song cycle here is pure Dando, as effortless melodies slip and slide over four-chord pop gems. Thanks to Stevenson, who also wrote several tracks, and who co-produced the album with Dando, Lemonheads is bright and bouncy, giving renewed vigor to Dando's warm, gravely voice. Whereas It's a Shame About Ray (1992, Atlantic) was stripped down and introspective, this version of the Lemonheads travels back to the band's Taang! records days, only with two decades of evolved songwriting to blend with the bombast.
Several songs on Lemonheads rank amongst the best work in Dando's catalog. "Become the Enemy" surveys the wreckage of a failed relationship, with Dando first blaming himself, then his partner, and ultimately, both of them. "No Backbone" contemplates the play-it-safe bedroom behavior of the narrator, and the minor chord beauty of "Steve's Boy" is a heartbreaking attempt by a father to reconcile with his son.
Ultimately, Lemonheads isn't likely to broaden the band's reach any. Punk rock kids won't suddenly think Evan Dando is the new Matt Skiba, but neither will longtime fans be disappointed by the band's louder direction. Distorted guitars and up-tempo rhythms aside, the record still has Dando's fingerprints all over it. Fans of the band during their mid-'90s heydays will likely find this a welcome return to form for a songwriter who has been artistically quiet for much too long.
Devin Grant - Charleston Post & Courier, September 2006
Dando squeezing more juice from 'Lemons'
It's hard to believe, but it has been almost 10 years to the day since we last saw an album by '90s alternative-pop darlings The Lemonheads.
Sure, Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando gave us a solo album, "Baby I'm Bored," in 2003 following a stint in rehab, but Lemonheads fans the world over were wondering if the mind that gave us "It's a Shame About Ray," "Great Big No," and the most rocking cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" ever, would return to his old form.
Happily, it seems that Dando is back in his semi-snotty pop-punk form, the one that first got The Lemonheads noticed by major labels back in the day.
Armed with a new label, Vagrant, and a sense of melody and lyricism that has only grown stronger during the group's decade-long break, this new self-titled CD marks a welcomed return.
Dando has backed himself with Descendents' bassist Karl Alvarez and Black Flag drummer Bill Stevenson. The result is an album that is meant to be cranked up and enjoyed. While there is a definite punk theme to the recording, there are also some unexpected guest slots, including the Band's Garth Hudson and J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. These guest appearances add a little unpredictably to the proceedings.
While a couple of tracks sound as if they didn't cook long enough, there is still enough good stuff here to satisfy the longtime Lemonheads fan.
Download These: "No Backbone," "Black Gown," "Poughkeepsie" RATING: (B+)
Kenneth Partridge - Connecticut Music, 5th October 2006
The first Lemonheads record in 10 years makes a great case for meat and potatoes, verses and choruses, distortion pedals and minimal production.
Led by singer, guitarist and lone permanent member Evan Dando, the group reaches back a decade or so, revisiting the kind of melodic, guitar-driven alt rock that likely blared as folks first parked themselves in front of their PCs, lattes in hand, and dialed up primitive versions of the Internet.
Despite obvious mid-'90s leanings, though, the pop-punk likes of "Black Gown" and "No Backbone" are welcome and refreshing. "Rule of Three," built around a tried-and-true ascending chord progression, rubs the same cranial pleasure zones that go all tingly when early Beatles songs come on the radio.
There's also a slight country feel to some of the songs, which fits well with Dando's monotonic, though not mono-emotional, singing style. "Become the Enemy," in particular, would sound natural coming from a guy in boots and a hat.
On "Pittsburgh," perhaps the disc's strongest tune, Dando warns against taking life too seriously, insisting, "With a little bit of common sense, you can lose a lot of innocence in this world."
The music bears him out, its simplicity and familiarity by far its greatest assets.
Jeremy Iverson - College Times, 5th October 2006
The best and worst thing you can say about the new Lemonheads album, their first in almost a decade, is that it sounds just like The Lemonheads with All’s rhythm section. Fitting, really, since that’s what The Lemonheads is; a return to the more pop-punk oriented sound of the band’s earlier work, with the help of two of pop-punk’s founding fathers, Karl Alvarez (Descendants/All) and Bill Stevenson (Black Flag/Descendants/All).
For diehard fans of both, Lemonheads and All, this album will be a welcome addition to your collection. In one recording, you can get Evan Dando’s lazy, hazy pop tunes and baritone vocals, and All’s tight, quick rhythms. What’s most fascinating is how well the two mix with Dando’s open guitar chords and laconic vocals riding so effortlessly over Alvarez and Stevenson’s rhythmic foundation.
This is primarily a product of good songwriting. The best songs are those that maintain a balance, never going too fast or too slow. “Pittsburgh,” with its Beatles-sounding backbeat and Dando’s country-influenced guitar is a new Lemonhead’s classic. “No Backbone,” written by Australian recluse Tom Morgan, is the best song here, keeping the folksy acoustic guitars of Dando’s best Lemonheads work, with a heavy rock beat, Alvarez’s walking bass line and guest guitar solos from Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis.
While these tracks all succeed because of their balance of power among the musicians, many of the songs here falter for vaguely the same reason. There’s talent and history, but not many hooks. It makes the album seem like a gimmick gone awry. If Dando had brought in a few more collaborators, there would be a little more edge. The album is too cohesive and too similar throughout.
The lingering disappointment here is due in part to the wait for Lemonheads fans. If this had been another Dando solo album, it wouldn’t matter quite as much that it doesn’t stand up to the pop-punk classics the Lemonheads have created before, especially It’s a Shame About Ray, one of the brightest spots of the alternative heyday of the 1990s. It’s just a pleasant, but unremarkable, album by some very good musicians.
Sam Gnerre - The Daily Breeze, 6th October 2006
Singer-songwriter and free spirit Evan Dando led the Lemonheads to considerable success on the indie/college circuit in the early 1990s, peaking with the "It's a Shame About Ray" album in 1992.
After disbanding the group in 1997, he became a vagabond (some would say "party animal") with little interest in recording, an attitude hinted at in the title of his 2003 solo album, "Baby I'm Bored."
Now, he and longtime Lemonheads collaborator Tom Morgan have resurrected the band in conjunction with former Descendents rhythm section Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez. This eponymous album does something that few reunion projects (other than the rejuvenated Go-Betweens) can claim: it picks up right where the band left off 10 years ago.
Dando's vocals sound as assured and polished as ever, blending seamlessly with the band's crisp playing on uptempo tracks such as "In Passing" and Stevenson's "Become the Enemy."
Dando seems to have had some female trouble along the way: The dysfunctional marriage described in "Baby's Home" ends with disturbingly violent imagery, and the lyrics to "December" are equally bitter.
The guitar-centric music on "The Lemonheads" has considerable bite, thanks to co-producers Dando and Stevenson. While not an out-and-out triumph, it's a welcome return to form that makes one want to hear more from this version of the band. 3 stars
Jimmy Draper - LA Weekly, 11th October 2006
The more things change, the more Evan Dando remains the same. “Is it really true, years passed away?” the alt-pop pinup sings on The Lemonheads, an album so steeped in ’90s nostalgia that it’s easy to believe he truly hasn’t noticed an entire decade has passed since his band’s last, Car Button Cloth. Time flies, it turns out, when he’s having fun: Aside from his 2003 solo debut, aptly titled Baby I’m Bored, Dando has chosen to expend his energy hanging with celebs and blabbing about his infamous drug life to anyone who still cares. So if he’s surprised to find time passing him by, listeners are equally shocked to discover he still fancies himself a musician.
The Lemonheads, however, makes a strong case for his full-time return to music. Recorded with Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, the band’s eighth album may find Dando penning his same old bubble-grunge song, but it remains a good one. Despite unfortunate lyrical clunkers like “If it ain’t fixed, don’t break it,” it’s hard to resist such amiable pop-rock confections as “Steve’s Boy,” “No Backbone” and “Pittsburgh” — none of which would’ve sounded out of place on Dando’s crowning achievement, 1993’s Come On Feel the Lemonheads. Newcomers probably won’t feel The Lemonheads; its unscrubbed feel is out of sync with today’s glossier music world. But for longtime fans who’ve missed Dando’s infectious, deceptively simple songs, this is a nostalgia trip worth taking.
Meredith Hitchcock - Yale Daily News, 13th October 2006
The eponymous Lemonheads record is to punk what Urban Outfitters is to a hipster wardrobe: not quite the real deal. But the album, like an overpriced t-shirt, is nonetheless pleasing.
Though they never received much airplay, The Lemonheads achieved moderate success in the early 1990s as jacks-of-all-genres, riding on the success of a cover of "Mrs. Robinson." "The Lemonheads" is the band's first effort after breaking up in 1997, and their album is a occasionally exciting but frequently stale return to what we heard before.
The Lemonheads set up the album as a reunion of old friends with the up-tempo "Black Gown." The song is a set of instructions to lounge on your parents' basement couch and reminisce. The album has the sound and feel of a homecoming; the songs act as the conversation between friends, answering the question, "So what have you been up to for ten years?" The Lemonheads hook up their amps and respond.
Well, first lead singer Evan Dando broke up with his girlfriend. "Become the Enemy," the second and perhaps the strongest song on the album, is straightforward: we broke up, you've become the enemy, as ex-girlfriends do, and though I blamed you, it was both of our faults. It was a learning experience. The important thing Dando seems to have gleaned from a decade of living is that rage - against ex-girlfriends and unsavory presidential administrations alike - is worthless. In "Let's Just Laugh," Dando concludes, "We can never do anything about anything, anyway."
Something could have been done, though (and maybe should have been done), about the mid-album slump of a song "Baby's Home," a painful foray into alt-country. The song, with its affected unrelenting twang and deadening rhythm, prompts a quick jab at the fast-forward button. Aside from this one misstep, however, the album is never outright bad.
Hailed as a "slacker king" in the early 1990s, Dando continues to live up to expectations. The album is the incarnation of music to be blasted from a dorm room window on a spring day. But the laid-back, controlled chaos of The Lemonheads' sound fails to charm as well as it did on previous albums. The album's half-hearted attempt to update The Lemonheads' sound is somewhat out of place. There was no need to speed up the tempo of the album, so the songs come off as a sort of slacker king on speed. The songs are still about girls, feelings and disillusionment; Dando just spews the lyrics more quickly. There is a constant nagging feeling that many of the songs would have worked just as well at a more sedate pace.
The fact that the album is eponymous is perhaps telling: it's the same old thing. Thankfully, that thing was pretty good. The feeling of reliving glory days pervades even through the end; the album concludes with acoustic reprises of two songs that appear earlier on the album. Dando is still buttoned into his flannel shirt from 1992, worn thin from repeated washing. "The Lemonheads" is an obvious play into early '90s alt-rock nostalgia, but there is something comfortable about coming home.
John Mulvey - Uncut October 2006
Punk's Not Dead! The Marvellous Return of Evan Dando
Sometimes, it's easy to forget that Evan Dando actually made any records in the '90s. Thanks to his extra-curricular antics, he became stereotyped as grunge's hapless jester; a puppyish junkie who stumbled round London in Kurt Cobain's old coat, stalked Oasis, and talked about his drug habits with an eagerness that foreshadowed Pete Doherty. Symmetrically, he briefly dated Kate Moss, too. Dippy Dando, his critics called him, a tragicomic pop lightweight adrift in po-faced times for American rock.
The truth is that Dando was always a whole lot smarter - if no less reckless - than his image suggested. And the records he made with his ever-changing Lemoneads have endured much better than most. From 1987 to 1996, they hammered together hardcore, power-pop, country and the quixotic sound of the US underground into seven exhilarating LPs, peaking with 1992's It's A Shame About Ray. Dando, an uncommonly warm baritone, didn't write all the songs. But he invested everything he sang with his own happy-sad charisma.
Ten years on, the good news is that nothing much has changed. After a lovely solo album (2003's Baby I'm Bored), which privileged Dando's mellower inclinations, The Lemonheads is pithy and exuberant. His voice and way around a melody remain gorgeous: "Rule Of Three", for instance, is an infectious gallop that seems to cave in on itself, just as "The Great Big No" did in 1993. Tom Morgan, the leader of Australia's undervalued Smudge and provider of many key Lemonheads songs, contributes two more beauties.
Dando's new collaborators, meanwhile, act as a guide to his diverse inspirations. The Band's Garth Hudson brings rootsy heritage, with a solemn piano intro to the hurtling "Black Gown". J Mascis, an old running mate from Boston, nails a trademark wandering solo (much like "The Wagon") to Tom Morgan's outstanding "No Backbone". And, most importantly, the new rhythm section is Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez of '80s hardcore tykes The Descendents, a big influence on the adolescent Dando. With Stevenson also co-producing and writing, The Lemonheads has a thrust to its songcraft that recalls 1990's transitional Lovey.
Consequently, there's great pleasure to be found in Dando's refusal to play the embittered grunge survivor. As he approaches 40, his new home at Vagrant - a heavy-hitting label for new American punk - seems apposite. The Lemonheads is a moody, giddy, charming album, as ragged and dynamic as those the band were making half a lifetime ago. It's a small miracle that Evan Dando is still alive. It's a slightly bigger one that he can still fend off maturity with such ruffled, wide-eyed panache. 4/5
Dom Gourlay - Drowned In Sound October 2006
Around the time Kurt Cobain and company were putting the finishing touches to Nevermind, another band from across the pond were about to enjoy their first taste of international success, following nearly six years and four albums of trying. Indeed, if Nirvana's big, no-holds-barred power anthems had the guys' vote, then The Lemonheads and their picturesque frontman Evan Dando's mugshot adorned a million teenage girls' bedroom walls.
But of course, A Shame About Ray - undoubtedly the highpoint of The Lemonheads' career - came out in 1992, and the world and its musical tastes have moved on since.
So what we have here then, after a ten-year hiatus (as The Lemonheads, at least), is the band's eighth studio album with as unimaginative a title as is humanly possible. Fortunately, the lengthy break seems to have re-ignited Dando's embers, particularly those stoked up around his early '80s punk-rock roots, as not since 1989's Lick has he really let his (much shorter these days) hair down and rocked out with such aplomb. Indeed, this post-millennium version of The Lemonheads even features two stalwarts from that aforementioned era in the shape of ex-Descendants Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson, who also lists Black Flag as one of his former employees.
If their last record Car Button Cloth sounded like a stranded little boy in the middle of a desert island surrounded by waves and Britpop, then The Lemonheads is pretty much a one-dimensional exercise in how to combine the snotty excess of punk and combine it with the saccharine jollities of pop without overdosing on the sweet stuff. More to the point, Dando seems readier than ever to confront every nemesis that has perpetuated the last decade with an indignant two-fingered salute. 'Steve's Boy' runs along on a tank of energetic fizz, with the lyric "You can't break me, you can't make me go away" revealing itself every third line as a reminder that he's back and hungrier than an anorexic wolf.
Elsewhere, opener 'Black Gown' deceives and flatters at the same time, starting out with a piano-led funeral march intro before turning into a speed trip to the Bowery circa 1978. 'In Passing', meanwhile, sees Dando making back-handed jibes at an old flame - Misses Hatfield or Ryder perhaps? - as his "If I'd known you were coming I'd have stayed away" riposte clearly illustrates.
Even when the tempo is slowed down, such as on current single 'Become The Enemy' or seductive ballad 'Baby's Home', Dando's ear for a tune and tongue for a bilebashing come to the fore in admirable fashion.
For latecomers to The Lemonheads this record isn't a bad place to start. For long-term fans it's a sure sign that Evan Dando isn't ready to be written off just yet, and while there isn't an obvious grab you by the bollocks and twist 'em round 'til you fall to your knees statement of intent like 'Alison's Going To Happen', there's ne'er a dull moment either. 7/10
Rob Fitzpatrick - The Word October 2006
What do you do when you have everything? You carry on, holler The Lemonheads.
The last time I saw Evan Dando he had fought through a packed crowd at a Buffalo Tom show - yes, it was rather a long time ago - only to take to the stage and proceed to steal the show from under them. Was that Kurt's old raincoat he was wearing? Eventually the band everyone had paid to see just kind of wandered off and left him to it.
He then charmed the entire room, while being clearly so high he was unable to uncross his own eyes. Everyone loves Evan. That's just how it is.
In a recent issue of The Word he was described as "the Gram Parsons who survived", which seems as neat a summation of the man's remarkable self-preservation instincts as you're every likely to read. Blessed with looks, money, status and talent, Dando is a person so secure in the knowledge that someone, somewhere would always be there to pick up the pieces and put him back together he felt entirely comfortable writing songs about just how nice it was to hang out with your girlfriend and plough happily through mountains upon mountains of drugs.
That was then, of course. And this is another juicily bittersweet Lemonheads album. It is very good. If you have ever liked the Lemonheads theres lots you will enjoy here. And, clearly, there has been no radical rethink of the game plan. It's mid-tempo, hair-shaking indie rock from the man who's been making mid-tempo, hair-shaking indie rock for nearly a quarter of a century. While listening to this record, I have begun to think of Evan Dando as Neil Young with no outside hang up, and significantly better teeth. I hope this helps.
So, Black Gown is scratchy power-pop, Pittsburgh and Rule Of Three and Let's Just Laugh are classic Dando, the sort of pumped-up, hyper-melodic, strum-a-longs that will ensure the bands many fans have some new material to bounce around to at gigs. In Passing is the skip-worthy waltz-time number. Steve's Boy is great and No Backbone - featuring J Mascis - sounds like Buffalo Tom. Only better. In 2006! Who'd have thought it?
Paul Walters - CD reviews, 3rd November 2006
Evan once remarked in the early days of the Lemonheads’ career that they were so called after those lemon sweets; implying that they were sweet on the outside, but sour on the inside. This has long been a template of both Evan’s solo work and the Lemonheads’ combined efforts, but with this new offering Evan seems to be pushing back to his roots, returning to his love of early punk bands like Hüsker Du and Black Flag, seemingly combining his early work with The Whelps and these early inspirations with his tried and tested bittersweet songwriting abilities.
The self-titled comeback album comprises yet another new line-up made of a few key members of The Descendents, a band which Evan Dando reputedly looked up to in his early musical career. Evan reinforced this in his press pages, “I wanna make another loud record, and those are the guys to do it with.” With this new take on the Lemonheads timeless, carefree style, he seems back on track with a strong album worthy of the Lemonheads stamp. Helping him move into rockier territory are the likes of J. Mascis and Garth Hudson, who appear randomly throughout the album to contribute their considerable talents.
The new album seems to be mostly about missed opportunities and lost goals, which makes you wonder where Evan’s head is at the moment. No matter what has happened to him in his career he has always managed to scramble back from the dregs still clinging to some vestiges of popularity. Admittedly if you take his career as a whole it has always been incredibly rocky, from the initial breakdown of the Lemonheads when Evan just played the famous line from “Sweet Child O Mine” all the way through Ben Deily’s songs whenever they played live, which resulted in Deily leaving the band, through to Evan’s eventual personal breakdown when he admitted to having a crack problem. The album still retains some of their former works’ upbeat quirkiness, but there is definitely an underlying tone that somehow keeps the mood at a constant mid point throughout.
The Lemonheads were always about hiding frighteningly embittered lyrics behind soft vocals and floating ‘I couldn’t care less’ refrains, but with their new line up the Lemonheads seem to be subtly crossing a line that originally made these darker sides less tangible. With this comes a rockier, edgier version of the Lemonheads. It’s not exactly what you might call a ‘dark’ album, but some of the lines can creep up on you, like in the song, “Rule of Three,” where Evan is singing about a cheating wife. The song’s protagonist takes the day off to spy on his cheating spouse and as another man’s car pulls into the driveway Evan sings, “Although my hearts hurtin’ My shotgun is workin’ And it packs one hell of a surprise…” The lines are still a little masked behind the softer alt/ country sounds, but it just sounds like Evan’s losing patience with hiding his lyrics under the surface so much now, as a result his songs just seem a little bit more focused. This may actually detract a bit from the Lemonheads original sound, as being vague is what made Evan so endearing. While not a bad album in any way, the lack of trademark optimistic, sweet songs makes the album a little bereft of standout tracks. Despite this, the standard here is at least consistent and each song is definitely well put together.
Having said that, single “Become the Enemy” is the one clear standout track on the album, it’s no “Outdoor Type,” but it still has that winsome Dando charm, and contains all the wavering, slacker rhythm that is the Lemonheads calling card whilst simultaneously dealing with heartbreak and introspective musings on failed relationships. All with the same languid charisma that smacks of every prior Lemonheads record, lots of laidback remorseful musings on life, and love, presumably staged in and around trailer parks.
In all, this offering is a strong effort and the hired help are top notch and all bring their own styles to the basic Lemonheads structure. However, it still feels a little held back or possibly out of place. It could be that this is just a transitional album as Evan attempts to move more fully back into Hate Your Friends territory. This is definitely one to get if you’re a Lemonheads fan. If you’re not though you may find yourself a bit lost without any obvious singles outside of “Become the Enemy.”
August Forte - Lumino Magazine, 21st November 2006
After years spent in the drug wilderness, Lemonheads main man Evan Dando emerged a little tougher and a lot wiser on his 2003 solo debut, Baby I’m Bored. The album was a frank confession of time ill-spent that exposed the onetime alt-rock heartthrob as a skilled songwriter with a knack for updating the troubled folk of Townes Van Zandt and Tim Hardin. So why, three years later, is Dando resurrecting the Lemonheads moniker for a self-titled album on Vagrant?
According to the press release, he “wanted to make a rock record, a melodic rock record” and was “sick of selling solo T-shirts.”
Dando’s reasons for a Lemonheads revival duly noted, the album in question finds the singer in fine voice and excellent company. Contributions from Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag), Karl Alvarez (Descendents), J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.) and Garth Hudson (The Band) toughen up Dando’s songs considerably. Gone are the pop punk sing-alongs and sugarcoated covers that defined The Lemonheads in the 1990s. Instead there are feedback-enhanced rave-ups (“Let’s Just Laugh,” “In Passing”), post-hardcore rock songs (“Black Gown”), breathless perfection (“Rule of Three”) and experimental power pop (“December”). Throughout, Dando’s lyrics shine as testaments to an imperfect life lived to the fullest.
Ranking right up there with the classic Lemonheads LP, It’s a Shame About Ray, and Baby I’m Bored, The Lemonheads demands attention as one of 2006’s nicest surprises. Be sure to buy a non-solo T-shirt when the band hits your town before year’s end.
Nate Cavalieri - The Village Voice, 8th December 2006
Evan Dando—the Lemonheads' pouty, aggravatingly photogenic singer and only constant member—suffers a strange curse. Not a lack of attention or talent, certainly, nor the classic dilemma of wrong place, wrong time. Dando's plight in 2006 is more dire: His early celebrity as alt-rock's consummate cover boy made him such a bright star that it created a kind of flash blindness. Back when he was punking Simon and Garfunkel, we saw so much of him that today he's all but invisible.
Opener "Black Gown" is a nonsensical if inoffensive banger, so effortless Dando might well have written it on the john; the record that follows is as catchy and unabashedly shtick-free as anything released this year. With the Descendents' rhythm section, "Become the Enemy" (written by drummer Bill Stevenson) moves to Toto's "Rosanna" shuffle, while geographical Dando tunes like "Pittsburgh" and "Poughkeepsie" feature balmy hooks to rival the1992 breakout It's a Shame About Ray. Perhaps the political commentary on "Let's Just Laugh"—regarding "a Texan stranger with a rope and straight razor . . . getting impatient for something major"—proves that these guys don't have Crossfire chops. (For better or for worse, that tune is this century's "Big Gay Heart.") But Dando nonetheless emerges from Lemonheads as a powerpop elder statesman and a suddenly appropriate Paul Westerberg labelmate.
But how the devil did those two fairly unlikely bedfellows find themselves in the bafflingly unlikely flophouse of Vagrant Records—a label revered/derided for popularizing emo blowups like Get Up Kids, Saves the Day, and Dashboard Confessional? Maybe it's as simple as the revelation Westerberg describes on the Replacements' "Alex Chilton," back when Paul himself was still a punk growing out of his acrid tastes: "Children by the millions sing . . . I'm in love with that song."
If you squint your ears, the Lemonheads' first record, 1987's Hate Your Friends, has few such lovable songs, and there's nearly enough snarl to bring to mind the skate punk that Vagrant cranked out when it started. If Dando quickly outgrew such noisy rebellion through the '90s, Vagrant's similar evolution—from punk to pop—reflects a much wider sea change. These days Vagrant could reintroduce Dando to millions, even if those millions are the kid brothers and sisters of those who knew him back in the day and have since tried to forget. After planting the punked-out post-hardcore seeds of early emo (see: Get Up Kids, 1999), Vagrant has since grown into a powerpop powerhouse (see: Get Up Kids, 2004), along the way evolving from a record label that issued ollie-accompanying music to a record company that could influence a nation and shape the tastes of a Vans-wearing generation. (We'll see if they can pull this off with their other idiosyncratic 2006 release: the beer-chugging, nostalgia-riffing Hold Steady.) Like Westerberg's children's millions, Vagrant's champions are increasingly in love with the pop song.
Can these new Lemonheads deliver? On "Steve's Boy," one of the record's most cleverly crafted tunes (it's also a Stevenson tune, oddly enough), an appropriately disillusioned punk underdog admits to his dad that he knows he "can't make you love me," but he's quick to back it up with a promise: "I can't make you well/I can't make you love me/But I'm not leaving here without you." The chorus is so sweet that you can't help but want him to stay; you're in love with that song.
Paul Hernia - Art Rocker
When bands who have been around for a while decide to give their new album an eponymous title, they're sending out a clear message: "we're going back to basics guys. This could have been our debut. Forget the wayward directions we've experimented with in recent years - this album is what we're all about. It's got everything that used to make us great".
So Lemonheads: Lemonheads. Evan Dando hasn't gone so far as recruiting the original band members he acrimoniously split with in the late 80s. But he has put his band together from some of the leading punk rock lights of The Lemonheads' formative years. We've got Bill Stevenson and Karl Alveraz from The Descendents on drums and bass. John Kastner from the criminally underated Doughboys gets a mention as 'guidance counsellor'. And Gibby Hanes supplies several seconds of sonic weirdness.
For people (like me) who spent their college years trying to copy the chops and tunes of those bands - the opening blast of 'Black Gown' is a hairs on the back of the neck delight. Dando's melancholic, richly toned voice provides some consistency with the last couple of records. But this time round there's the kick and energy of the punk rock Lemonheads of the Hate Your Friends and Lick albums. It's a sound I never thought I'd hear again in new songs, and the first spin of this record was a genuine thrill.
Nostalgia aside however, in the context of the current musical landscape, it is a bit of a curio - on these shores at any rate. It's not artrock. It's not urchin rock - Dando's probably been too wasted in recent years to even have heard of Pete Docherty - the irony! There's no sharp edges to it, and it's not full on and angsty. But is a great collection of killer tunes played with energy and enthusiasm.
I hope people new to the Lemonheads get it.
Why wait until your eighth album as a band for an eponymous title? Is Evan getting a little arrogant with age, or maybe he wants to distance this album from his solo work, or perhaps he's just running out of ideas? With such a hardcore fanbase though - check out evandando.co.uk for a truly great fansite - he can get away with churning out the same bittersweet pop rock tunes for the next 20 years and his followers, myself included, would still be happy.
Stylistically, the new album lies somewhere between 1990's 'Lovey' and 1992's 'It's a shame about ray mixing sublime melodies with a country twang and a punk edge. The songs are fantastically formed, the guitar work is simple yet clever and Dando's vocals are pitch perfect as ever. And at only 35 minutes long, it may not be great value for money but it leaves you hungry for more rather boring the listener with self indulgent noodling. Album opener, 'black gown', immediately shows the punk influences bought in by former descendants members Bill Stevenson and Karl Alverez before entering into another classic lemonheads chorus. Another highlight is 'Poughkeepsie', opening with a country-blues riffs going seamlessly into an uplifting pop chorus which could easily fit in place on 'it's a shame about ray'.
On the downside, the first single to be released off the album 'become the enemy' has slightly to much of the MOR soft rock feel to it despite its clever guitar work. This is a strange single choice and not one of Evan's own songs.
Evan has always been a generous artist, showcasing his friends songs on his own albums because he believes it's the best way to get them out there. This is the case with 'No Backbone' which is penned by his old Smudge pal Tom Morgan who wrote 'Outdoor Type'. It's a melodic melancholy masterpiece that could be one of Evan's own and has the added bonus of guitar stylings from Jay Mascis.
Overall this album is neither original nor groundbreaking, but that has never been the point of the Lemonheads. After eight albums of melodic, country, punk pop rock this reviewer isn't tired yet. It's a case of familiarity breeding contentment.