Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Lemonheads - It's a Shame About Ray

It's time for a Sassy Cute Band Alert! If you were a girl in 1992 you might have chosen to love Marky Mark and his Calvin Klein underwear, but if you were anything like me, Evan Dando was a real life forerunner to Jordan Cantalano. I was only 13, but damn if I didn't want to be part of Generation-X. The scruffy slackers with their unwashed hair and smoky flannel shirts made me want to drink coffee and sing about how I was just too jaded to love them. And what about Juliana Hatfield? How much did I want to be her?

The Lemonheads formed in Boston in 1986. I trust you've heard of them.

It's a Shame About Ray was originally released in 1992 without the ubiquitous cover of "Mrs. Robinson" which was unfairly synonymous with the band's name. It seems justified that when the band reformed to perform this album in its entirety at the 2005 All Tomorrow's Party festival, the song was left out of the setlist.

Prior to this release, The Lemonheads played a more aggressive and raw form of punk rock. Their choice to incorporate more jangle and pop really paid off in this engaging set of songs. It seems that they found that they could cushion their lyrical angst and irony with sweet melodies and sugary vocals.

This album was me turning off the radio in favor of listening to albums as a whole.

While the songs themselves are nothing new or particularly groundbreaking, there is an instant familiarity that just makes you feel good. And the lyrics are instantly relatable as well. "Confetti" is my first favorite on here. It's the story of the early 90's, a world where apathy saturated every aspect of young American life. At first listen it's a great little sing-a-long until you realize it's about a guy who couldn't love a girl that kind of deserved it, then it all becomes bittersweet.

"It's a Shame About Ray" feels like a eulogy. The acceptance that things must change and that includes losing people close to us. It also advocates the hardening of your heart in an increasingly crueler world. This same loss of feeling (and feeling of loss?) carries over into "Rudderless", another one of my favorites. You can try to find meaning in this life, but perhaps things should only be taken at face value. You go down to the lake and you find out that the lake was wet. And eventually you'll get tired of getting high. Perhaps you're just not meant to go anywhere if you're rudderless.

"Bit Part" continues that search for some sort of significance. That perhaps if you can't be meaningful in your own life, you can have a bit part in someone else's. The first moment of clarity and happiness is "Alison's Starting to Happen". It's the story of a girl finding herself and finding her way into Dando's heart. Suddenly, there is something worth really living for. This enthusiasm is also found in "Kitchen" which finds Dando "thrilled to be in the same post code as you".

I haven't talked much about the more drug-centered songs on this album, and while good, I just don't have as strong a connection with them.

The original edition of the album ends with "Frank Mills" a cover from the musical Hair. It's a much better ender than the overplayed cover of "Mrs. Robinson" that later re-issues included.

There's a brand new re-issue with demos and b-sides and a DVD so if you're interested there's that for you.

Hear it HERE.

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