Evan Dando is back, and he’s revived the Lemonheads name. George Henn and Mike Madden take a look at the group’s new studio album.
George Henn: With his first new release under the Lemonheads moniker in a decade, Evan Dando is doing more than cashing in on his past. He also is revisiting it. The Lemonheads (Vagrant Records) — a collection of mostly fast-paced melodic songs with some rough edges — sounds much like the kind of album the band was putting out in the late ’80s, before Dando found fame as an alt-rock poster boy/tunesmith, thanks in large part to his band’s best work and breakthrough album, 1992’s It’s a Shame About Ray. He certainly has enlisted the right help for such a project, as drummer Bill Stevenson and bassist Karl Alvarez, both from punk legends the Descendents, round out the ever-changing Lemonheads lineup.
Mike Madden: It’s great to hear Dando singing with a solid backing band, especially on shorter songs such as “Poughkeepsie” and “Rule of Three,” both of which clock in at barely over two minutes. The latter features strong riffs, powerful bass and hand claps to complement Dando’s signature effortless vocals. But the length of these songs doesn’t take away from the other Dando signature, and that is his sly and honest songwriting. Whether it’s a straight-ahead rocker or an electric waltz like “Baby’s Home,” the way Dando can turn a phrase always has been his secret weapon.
Henn: I have to disagree there. Dando’s songwriting usually is serviceable and occasionally clever, but on this disc it sounds like Dando offers up too many forced rhymes and lines that collectively don’t say much. Take, for instance, the incredibly bland “We can never do anything about anything, anyway/Whatever will be, I guess we’ll see,” from “Let’s Just Laugh.” Lyrically, and at times vocally, Dando sounds strangely detached. It’s a shame that there is not much of an emotional core to these songs — with “Baby’s Home” and “No Backbone,” perhaps the disc’s best track, being the exceptions — because the playing is quite impassioned and the arrangements are for the most part quite catchy.
Madden: The occasional slipups aside, the fact that this album is billed as a Lemonheads project and it sounds more like primitive Lemonheads and less like his appropriately titled 2003 solo release, Baby, I’m Bored, speaks volumes about Dando’s commitment to re-establishing that band’s sound. He had a good run as a lonesome troubadour, but that era had to end. The musicians’ enthusiasm for this material creates the fun atmosphere, and even if there is a cliche or two, the quality certainly outweighs the mess.
Henn: You’re right on that point. It is an easy, fast-paced listen that should appeal to longtime fans who have been waiting some time for Dando to plug back in and let it rip. The good news is: It is clear he has not lost his ear for melody, and he is still in fine voice. Perhaps when he is finished embracing his punk roots, the Lemonheads will re-create the balance between polished pop smarts and youthful energy they once achieved so well.
Madden: And hopefully it isn’t too long between releases, either. If Dando gets some of his credibility back, he may go back into his guest-artist-for-hire mode and ruin the momentum he looks to create here. He’s not the aforementioned alt-rock poster boy anymore, even if fans start to pay attention again.