The eponymous Lemonheads record is to punk what Urban Outfitters is to a hipster wardrobe: not quite the real deal. But the album, like an overpriced t-shirt, is nonetheless pleasing.
Though they never received much airplay, The Lemonheads achieved moderate success in the early 1990s as jacks-of-all-genres, riding on the success of a cover of “Mrs. Robinson.” “The Lemonheads” is the band’s first effort after breaking up in 1997, and their album is a occasionally exciting but frequently stale return to what we heard before.
The Lemonheads set up the album as a reunion of old friends with the up-tempo “Black Gown.” The song is a set of instructions to lounge on your parents’ basement couch and reminisce. The album has the sound and feel of a homecoming; the songs act as the conversation between friends, answering the question, “So what have you been up to for ten years?” The Lemonheads hook up their amps and respond.
Well, first lead singer Evan Dando broke up with his girlfriend. “Become the Enemy,” the second and perhaps the strongest song on the album, is straightforward: we broke up, you’ve become the enemy, as ex-girlfriends do, and though I blamed you, it was both of our faults. It was a learning experience. The important thing Dando seems to have gleaned from a decade of living is that rage — against ex-girlfriends and unsavory presidential administrations alike — is worthless. In “Let’s Just Laugh,” Dando concludes, “We can never do anything about anything, anyway.”
Something could have been done, though (and maybe should have been done), about the mid-album slump of a song “Baby’s Home,” a painful foray into alt-country. The song, with its affected unrelenting twang and deadening rhythm, prompts a quick jab at the fast-forward button. Aside from this one misstep, however, the album is never outright bad.
Hailed as a “slacker king” in the early 1990s, Dando continues to live up to expectations. The album is the incarnation of music to be blasted from a dorm room window on a spring day. But the laid-back, controlled chaos of The Lemonheads’ sound fails to charm as well as it did on previous albums. The album’s half-hearted attempt to update The Lemonheads’ sound is somewhat out of place. There was no need to speed up the tempo of the album, so the songs come off as a sort of slacker king on speed. The songs are still about girls, feelings and disillusionment; Dando just spews the lyrics more quickly. There is a constant nagging feeling that many of the songs would have worked just as well at a more sedate pace.
The fact that the album is eponymous is perhaps telling: it’s the same old thing. Thankfully, that thing was pretty good. The feeling of reliving glory days pervades even through the end; the album concludes with acoustic reprises of two songs that appear earlier on the album. Dando is still buttoned into his flannel shirt from 1992, worn thin from repeated washing. “The Lemonheads” is an obvious play into early ’90s alt-rock nostalgia, but there is something comfortable about coming home.