My lovely sister-in-law absolutely hit the nail on the Lemonheads. The group’s LP “Come On Feel The Lemonheads” was the soundtrack of the Summer of 1993 & was getting just one more play as we cruised the lanes of the East Yorkshire countryside. “The trouble with this band”, she said, “is that they can’t decide whether they want to be the Ramones or the Lovin’ Spoonful”. Brilliant…got ’em in one sentence. She said it as if it was a bad thing, I think she liked to know what she was getting,things to be a little more ordered. It was the contrast of a vivacious punky noise & the more sensitive, melodic folk-pop which put this Lemonheads’ record on repeat.
I can’t get away from calling the LP “Hey, Hey We’re The Lemonheads”. It’s all over the place but it’s so damned commercial that it reminds me of the Monkees, another good thing. I never quite got the post-Nirvana US grunge scene & would struggle to warble any tune by Pearl Jam, Soundgarden or, erm, Tad. Evan Dando could write 3 minute songs which passed the whistle test & sounded chartbound when played on the radio. Straight out of high school Lemonheads made an LP a year between 1987 & 1990. Writer/singer Ben Deily left after 3 albums of indie-punk so a move to a major label was synchronic with Evan taking the lead, adding a little more country, a little more sweetness. In 1992, behind the title track & a cover of “Mrs Robinson”, “It’s A Shame About Ray” was a gold record & people knew the band’s name.
So, a year later, with a bunch of fresh songs which would become “Come On…”, they came to Europe & were welcomed on to a lot of TV shows while the new singles were all over the radio. A spirited thrash at Glastonbury Festival through some songs the crowd were getting to know consolidated the Lemonheads’ rep as this year’s slackers. The LP was in the UK Top 10 & Evan Dando was an indie pin-up boy. Unfortunately he took a little too much advantage of the goodies on offer to a young man in his position. His shambolic “What, me worry ?” stoner charm wore thin when he lost his voice from too long on the pipe. 90’s rock boys could be edgy but business still had to be taken care of. It was 3 years before another record was released.
“Car Button Cloth” is an altogether darker thing than “Come On…”. There are no Juliana Hatfield backing vocals this time around to sweeten the tone. There are songs of loss & confusion which struggle to maintain the pace & sound unfinished. The stand-out tracks sound even better in this commotion & it’s not just the jangle-pop singles that hit the spot. Repeated exposure to a grungy lurch at the Appalachian murder ballad “Knoxville Girl” shows it to be well worth the trouble taken. “The Outdoor Type” is one of the (too ?) cute made-for-radio 45s but I find this Tom Morgan song funny & irresistible. The lyric “What if something’s on TV & never shown again ?” merits its own ovation in a song with a bunch of quality self-deprecation. Whether re-hab was working or not I was with the Lemonheads. Unfortunately there was no new record from the band for 10 years &, by then, not many people cared.
Rewind back to the Summer of 1994 & things were going fine thanks. I was working in construction &, while it was hard collar, I was in better shape than a guy over 40 could expect to be. London was giving up its good stuff without too much prompting from myself & then…oh shit. An accident at work smashed some leg bones into just too many pieces for comfort. I was in a hospital bed for the first time since I had been a small boy with big tonsils, There was going to be a long, slow & painful recovery & I was not wearing it well. My friends were great, they supplied me with home comforts, rationed me to just one smuggled spliff a day , even wheeled me to the pub across the road for a change of scenery & exercise for my drinking arm. I had not had any practice at being a good patient, the nights were long, uncomfortable & I worried too much. I needed a tried & tested form of reassurance & comfort.
A copy of “Come On Feel The Lemonheads” was just what I needed to soothe & inspire. My girlfriend returned from a holiday & was gratifyingly shocked & upset by events. She wanted to help, she did so by sorting me out a new CD &, y’know, it absolutely did the trick. The attitude of “I don’t wanna get stoned but I don’t wanna not get stoned” always worked while “Big Gay Heart” caught the best of the 70s country rock vibe & paid it forward. “Come On Feel The Lemonheads” was the record of consecutive Summers. That’s a short list, “Exodus” in 77/78, “One Fast Move Or I’m Gone” 2010/11, me…anal ?
Evan Dando is not everyone’s drug fuck-up of choice. “A good-looking guy with more luck than talent and more talent than brains who conceals his narcissism beneath an unassuming suburban drawl”. Fair enough Mr Christgau, that’s your opinion. I know that the Lemonheads made 2 proper LPs that I liked then & still regularly dig out now. I know they are not the Ramones or the Spoonful, the records are not perfect. Good on them for giving it a damn good try & making some great noise.