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Lemonheads
Varshons Ben Hewitt , June 24th, 2009 19:41

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Everything seems to have gone slightly quiet in the ever-shifting universe of Evan Dando since the release of 2006’s The Lemonheads broke an eight-year recording hiatus for him and his merry band of grunge-pop heroes. Despite peddling the same hazy, slacker melodies which helped sales of flannel shirts and ripped jeans skyrocket in the early 90s, their comeback album felt slightly underwhelming. With all of the band’s founding members apart from Dando jettisoned in favour of newer blood, The Lemonheads seemed to be a continuation of his solo career rather than the re-opening of a previous chapter. And now, rather than an album of new original material as was originally expected, a covers record has been proffered instead. The optimistic will see it as a welcome stop-gap before the next album; the more cynical as a way of concealing the fact that the well of creativity may be running dry.

But, lest it be forgotten, a cover provided a timely kick start to the career of The Lemonheads with the release of ‘Mrs Robinson’ in 1992. With their version of the Simon and Garfunkel standard arguably still their most recognisable song, so perhaps mining the riches of others isn’t such a bad idea. Indeed, with the grunge-stained smears of their previous work wiped away and replaced with a more gentle lo-fi sound, at times it seems inspired, such as with the rendition of Gram Parson’s ‘I Just Can’t Take It Anymore’ that opens the album. If the discernible strain of hazy melody that’s such a fixture in The Lemonheads canon owes a debt to Parsons then it’s more than repaid here, with a lush slice of chiming Americana that blends perfectly with Dando’s stripped-down vocals. ‘Waiting Around To Die’ by Townes Van Zandt and ‘Dandelion Seeds’ by July are given a similar daubing with a sweet, slacker varnish which showcases Dando’s love of sunny pop-hooks, while ‘The Green Fuz’, a one-hit wonder for the American garage band of the same name, is given a complete psychedelic makeover. A drawling, scuzzy reworking which taps into the song’s darker underbelly and rolls the original’s jaunty tempo through treacle, it’s evidence that The Lemonheads can beautifully scuff a cover version as well as sweetening it up.

No-one could accuse Dando of being conservative in his song choices, either. Tucked in amongst more obscure choices such as ‘New Mexico’ by FuckEmos lurk two potential minefields which are sure to provoke backlash if deemed to sully the originals. First up is a version of Wire’s ‘Fragile’ which, although failing to approach the frenetic, frazzled brilliance of the original, is imbued with a sombre reflective gravitas courtesy of Dando’s rich, bruised voice. Then there’s ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ by wizened rock-poet Leonard Cohen. More skeletal than the original, with bare-bones guitar replacing the previous plush arrangements, it boasts a guest vocal spot from Liv Tyler, whose breathy, fluttering vocals contrast well with Dando’s deep tones to create a worthy, if not wondrous, rendition.

It all grinds to a shuddering halt, however, when Kate Moss rears her tone-deaf head. Displaying her remarkable ability to sniff out a rock star to latch on to faster than a police dog searching for drugs on Pete Doherty’s tour bus, her cameo inflicts far more damage upon Arling and Cameron’s ‘Dirty Robot’ than by her throwing the latest batch of tracks by The Kills into a swimming pool. Her scratchy, tuneless vocal is proof, if it were still needed, that talent doesn’t rub off no matter how much coital activity you engage in with musicians. At other times, too, Dando strays into slightly pedestrian territory with plodding versions of G.G. Allin’s ‘Layin’ Up With Linda’ and Ian Willis’s ‘Yesterlove’.

The track most likely to raise eyebrows, though, is a cover of Linda Perry’s ‘Beautiful’. Stripped of Christina Aguilera’s caterwauling vocals, there’s something bizarrely touching about Dando trying to drown out his detractors and convince himself of his own self-worth. A finale that wouldn’t be out of place at a cabaret, equal parts insecure and defiant accompanied by brief flashes of searing electric guitar, it’s a fitting epitaph for a man simultaneously trying to recapture and evolve from his former glories.