Defecating on Dando

New Lemonheads reissue gets the story half-right

For some Lemonheads fans, their album It's A Shame About Ray was the end of the line. 1990s Lovey album crystallized the fusion of tightly wound pop, punk energy, and acoustic flourishes that had made the group so appealing to various sects of the college-radio scene; even the punks who dug the spazzy rawness of Creator found something in Lovey that (guiltily) spoke to them. But with Lovey's follow-up, Evan Dando transformed himself from a pop-punker who could play acoustic songs into an MTV-friendly troubadour. It was both unrecognizable and, to a large degree, unacceptable.

For most Lemonheads fans, though, It's A Shame About Ray is the beginning of the story, and it's for them that this collector's edition reissue was created. However, for even the most diehard Dando fan, this treatment still has a bit of a lipstick-on-a-pig feel. The DVD of this two-disc set is a straightforward duplicate of the Two Weeks In Australia VHS tape released after Ray became an alternative-radio staple; it contains eight (!) videos and three concert clips. On the musical side, nine acoustic demos are tacked on to the end of the Ray, along with the B-side "Shaky Ground." It's a tremendous amount of baggage to pile atop a 12-songs-in-30-minutes album. But that's not the most disorienting part of the set.

By 1992, cover songs had long been a part of the Lemonheads' repertoire. Evan Dando's take on songs made famous by everyone from Patsy Cline to Kiss and Gram Parsons was a part of almost every Lemonheads album, so it wasn't all that surprising that Ray included a cover of "Frank Mills" from the musical Hair. Nor was it all that shocking when, a couple of months after the album was released, the Lemonheads recorded a version of "Mrs. Robinson" for the video release of The Graduate. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but in hindsight, that decision probably fucked up Evan Dando's career more than a fistful of crack rocks.

Stuck onto subsequent pressings of Ray like some sort of happy-pill cancer, "Mrs. Robinson" recast the Lemonheads as a goofy acoustic pop band, popular for all the wrong reasons. The reflective glow cast by the song still makes cuts like "My Drug Buddy" and "Allison's Starting to Happen" seem like products of a too-clever-by-half granola-cruncher instead of the evidence of a gifted pop songwriter in the midst of a transformation. That this deluxe reissue positions "Mrs. Robinson" as the last track of the album just rubs salt into the wound. The song simply doesn't belong on the album, and though it seems counterintuitive to say so, the best way to approach the 23-track audio portion of this edition is to just listen to the first 12 songs ... over and over again.

 
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