THERE are many groups named after foodstuffs – Cream, Hot Chocolate, Orange Juice, Bread and the Cranberries to name but five – yet I can think of only one inspired by a brand of confectionery. The Lemonheads borrowed their title from an American candy which, as leader Evan Dando observed, was ‘sweet on the inside and sour on the outside’.
Dando, born 1967, formed the band in 1986 in Boston, Massachusetts, with two schoolfriends, both of whom soon fell by the wayside. Many collaborators would follow but Dando was always the boss. Punk was initially his main influence and the first four albums were pretty discordant, noisy affairs, although there was the odd exception such as this cover of Gram Parsons’s Brass Buttons from the Lovey LP.
Things started to get interesting for me with the release in 1992 of It’s A Shame About Ray. Dismayed at his lack of success thus far, Dando spent some time in Australia where he wrote songs with the musicians Nic Dalton and Tom Morgan. The result is much more loose and melodic than previous efforts, while Dando’s mellow voice has finally come of age. Further variety comes with the addition of Juliana Hatfield on bass and vocals.
The second track, Confetti is great. I love the way it stops and starts, firstly at the 40-second mark. This is followed by the title song, which was an international hit.
Rudderless keeps up the good work as does The Turnpike Down. I like almost every track on this record – Bit Part, Alison’s Starting to Happen, Hannah and Gabi, Kitchen and Frank Mills, from the musical Hair. That was where the album initially ended, but a cover version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson was added to subsequent issues. This was released as a single to mark 25 years since the debut of the movie The Graduate, and featured in the films Wayne’s World 2 and The Wolf of Wall Street.
In 1993 came an equally exceptional album, Come On Feel The Lemonheads. The first six tracks are as strong a selection as any released that decade, in my view. They are The Great Big No, Into Your Arms, It’s About Time, Down About It, Paid to Smile and Big Gay Heart. Paid to Smile provided me with a treasured moment one sunny afternoon when I was listening to it in the kitchen. Our daughter Elizabeth, then aged three, came running in from the garden unaware that I was there. When she saw me she beamed with delight, at the very moment when Dando sings the word Smi-i-i-i-ile. Wonderful.
At this time it seemed that Evan Dando had hit an irresistible groove and could almost do no wrong. But drugs began to blight his life. Having made friends with Oasis, he appeared alongside them in a sorry state at several gigs and developed a catastrophic crack cocaine and heroin habit. He eventually admitted his problem and was put through rehab by his wealthy family.
By 1996 he was back in action with Car Button Cloth. His voice had deteriorated and the album pales by comparison with its predecessor but Dando could still deliver some memorable hooks on songs such as It’s All True, If I Could Talk I’d Tell You, Break Me, Hospital and The Outdoor Type.
In 2003 Dando released Baby I’m Bored under his own name, although every Lemonheads album is in truth a solo effort. It kicks off in some style with Repeat and includes several cover versions plus the plaintive All My Life, written by Ben Lee for Dando.
Three years later came The Lemonheads, which to my ears is something of a throwback to the early noisy albums although diehard fans will no doubt enjoy tracks such as No Backbone, which features J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr on lead guitar.
And a further three years down the line came Varshons, a pleasant surprise. Eleven cover versions well performed, including Townes van Zandt’s Waiting Around To Die and Leonard Cohen’s Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, a duet with the actress Liv Tyler.
Finally there is Varshons 2, released this year and in my view nowhere near as good as the first.
So that’s Evan Dando, another story of great talent undermined by the rock and roll lifestyle. However, for a couple of years in the 1990s he was as good as anyone going and that song will always make me smi-i-i-i-ile.