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The Lemonheads
Hotel Sessions Eleanor Griggs , January 10th, 2012 14:36

Evan Dando, 90s poster boy and one quarter of the current reincarnation of the Lemonheads, long had a dream: to make an album for $53. Twenty years since the band shot to fame with their breakthrough album, It's A Shame About Ray, Dando has fulfilled his wish. The aptly titled Hotel Sessions cost exactly $53 to make when it was recorded in a hotel in Bondi, Australia, for the Lemonheads' then agent, Stephen Pavlovic, at the tail end of 1992 or start of 1993 (by his own admission, Dando can't remember which).

"Oh, to record live to cassette, master it and put it out," Dando has since cooed. "I have finally done it!" And so warm and wonderful is the realisation of his dream that it's tempting to get caught up in the romance of it all. But why only now, two decades after Dando recorded it in one take, are the Lemonheads releasing Hotel Sessions? It's not an easy question to answer. On first listen, the tape's hiss and crackle, Dando's mumbled narration and the roaring of engines from the street below leave you wondering whether this is nothing more than a sub-standard, self-indulgent project for the frontman's own gratification.

In fact, Hotel Sessions has been packaged as a lo-fi glimpse into what would eventually become Come On Feel The Lemonheads. All the usual suspects are included within the album's thirteen tracks: 'Big Gay Heart' kicks off the proceedings, with 'The Great Big No', 'It's About Time' and a version of 'Into Your Arms', which Dando has touted as better than the finished product, not far behind. It's true to say that these tracks are stripped back precursors to the comparatively polished finery of Come On Feel, but the sense that they're a bit too stripped back is never far away. In a climate where lo-fi is amassing mainstream popularity – the Foo Fighters made a number one album out of their own back-to-basics experience last year, after all – the nonsensical babbling at the start of 'Down About It' suggests Dando has missed the point.

In that case, it might be better to think of Hotel Sessions as a surviving collection of demos and rarities rather than a planned project. Handled in this way, the album begins to exude at least some charm; the plodding pace of 'Being Around' makes it a refreshing alternative to the bouncy final cut, while the softened vocals on 'Big Gay Heart' and 'I'll Do It Anyway' set them apart from the finished versions. The pièce de résistance, however, is 'Superhero', a previously unreleased cover of the Smudge song co-written by Dando himself. Unearthing gems such as this one, the entire thing suddenly seems so much more palatable.

The problem with demos and rarities, though, is that they tend to have limited appeal, snapped up and pored over by few other than the artist's most dedicated fans. For the Lemonheads, who sacrificed commercial success along with Dando's sobriety back in the nineties, Hotel Sessions is unlikely to be an exception to the rule. Two decades on, Dando may have dried out, but this exercise in nostalgia just serves as a painful reminder of what we're missing, especially when the realisation that six years have slipped by since the band released an album of original material sets in. When all is said and done – and of course, the novelty has worn off – the truth is simply that this is a ropey recording of predominantly pre-existing material, and not even the finest of the Lemonheads' ability at that.