- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

The Lemonheads

The Lemonheads

Vagrant

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.

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