Had a Lemonheads album like this one, featuring the Descendents’ rhythm section, guitar work from J. Mascis, and production work by Spot, been released when I was in high school, it would have been a bigger deal than my first hand-job. I’m tempted to award the record five stars just out of elation. Luckily, The Lemonheads is genuinely a terrific album, and not just in the shrugging “It’s not bad” way that Dando apologists used to characterize his 2003 solo effort Baby I’m Bored. Vagrant Records has rescued The Lemonheads from oblivion the way it saved Paul Westerbeg’s career with Stereo/Mono a few years back. I’m almost ready to forgive the label for unleashing Dashboard Confessional unto the masses. For anyone else who doesn’t think the new TV On the Radio album is all that great—or at least not the second-coming of Loveless or whatever preposterous NME-coined hyperbole Return To Cookie Mountain‘s picked up this week—The Lemonheads may be the album of the year.
As is so often the case with rock records, the best songs on The Lemonheads are the shortest. The exhilarating opener “Black Gown” shreds like the Ramones/Brian Wilson collaboration there always should have been but never was. Dando’s country-influenced songwriting has always been lauded for its mastery of the three-chord pop song, but, like the best ‘Heads tracks, “Black Gown” shows off his command of structure; for a 90-second song, there are a lot of key changes, riffs, bridges, verses, and other crap here. As if you cared. “Black Gown” is catchy, funny, fast, and awesome garage rock led by Dando’s familiar, sweet tenor, which hasn’t aged a note—despite all the crack he claims to have smoked.
Dando only wrote about half of the songs on The Lemonheads, and while they’re the best ones here (particularly “Poughkeepsie” and “December”), the contributions from drummer Bill Stevenson are pretty great too, since they’re likely Descendents’ cast-offs. Only Dando’s buddy Tom Morgan’s contributions—the passable “No Backbone” and the bland hillbilly waltz “Baby’s Home,” which is one of the most boring songs about murder that I’ve ever heard—slow the roll. And I miss Juliana Hatfield’s backup vocals (did she and Evan Dando have a fight or something?). Otherwise, The Lemonheads is nearly as great as the band’s masterpiece, It’s A Shame About Ray, and far more dependable than the runner-up Come On Feel The Lemonheads. And it may be more fun than either. Makes me feel like a kid again.