It seems that Lemonheads fans are few and far between these days. Maybe it's because most of those I converse with were the same ten years old I was when their breakthrough album, It's a Shame About Ray, was released. Maybe it's their sound, which one of my friends derisively refers to as "the punk rock Archies." Suffice it to say, out of my day-to-day acquaintances, I know few, if any, excited about this "reunion" of sorts that Evan Dando has put together with the Lemonheads. I have no idea why.
For starters, I am glad this album came out because, were the Lemonheads to never release another thing again, this is a much better epilogue to such a storied career than 1996's Car Button Cloth. The Lemonheads has an incredibly varied sound on it, heavier than anything from the poppier years of the Lemonheads' existence, and yet just as catchy. There's a bite to the sweetness that was lacking in their last few, most popular albums.
The album opens with two very memorable numbers, "Black Gown" and "Become the Enemy," the latter sounding like a mix between Come On Feel-era Lemonheads and Dan Andriano's songs on the Alkaline Trio album Good Mourning, with a chorus reminiscent of Drag the River. In fact, fans of both of those bands would do well to buy this album, as the sonic kinship does not end with that song. Both bands would undoubtedly proclaim the Lemonheads as an influence, and you can see why with these songs.
"Poughkeepsie" is a great song, but it isn't until the one-two punch of "No Backbone" and "Baby's Home" that this album really, truly demands to be heard. "No Backbone," featuring J. Mascis on guitar and easily the high point of the album, is a tale of a relationship dulled by time ("The bedroom ritual, a simple way to feel without running the risk of anything real ever being given, ever being shown. Back in the bedroom, no backbone."). The guitar work and the level of emotion shown by Dando in the lyrics and vocals helps make "No Backbone" a gripping song.
"Baby's Home" is another high point. It begins as a simple song about a marriage falling apart, but, with the last verse, becomes a folksy murder tale. I'll reveal no more here, but be sure to hear this song.
One more thing I need to mention is the production. The fact that Bill Stevenson constantly puts out quality production work goes without saying, but this album takes the cake. I can't put my finger on exactly what makes it so good, but the production work is so obvious and important that it may as well be considered an instrument.
I had expected to be disappointed by this album. The Lemonheads can be very hit or miss. I was worried there would be little to differentiate this album from Dando's solo work, but Stevenson and Karl Alvarez's contributions clearly made this album worthy of the Lemonheads' name. As far as reunions go, they run the gamit from horrendous to mindblowing, and, while the Lemonheads is neither one nor the other, it is an excellent album that stands out in a year already filled to the brim with great music. I know this sounds like a press release, but I am really so pleased that not only does it not suck, but it's good -- thus, I can't help but recommend it.