At the start of the 1990s, before ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’, Lemonheads were likeable enough, personable. They had a handful of great fuzzy pop tunes influenced by the same bands everyone was influenced by (Hüsker Dü, The Replacements), and a couple of lickable covers, including a particularly evocative one of Suzanne Vega’s ‘Luka’. Their singer Evan Dando loved Howe Gelb’s ramshackle Giant Sand and the beautiful, tragic, music of Television Personalities’ Dan Treacy and Gram Parsons. His band were sweethearts: a photographer and a best buddy/pastry baker — they were the fifth best band in Boston. It wasn’t an insult. There were a lot of great bands in Boston back then.
They might’ve been called ‘grunge’ if he’d hailed from the other side of America. But the band were on the verge of breaking up. Work on their fourth album (their major label debut on Atlantic), 1990’s under-praised, and under-sold, ‘Lovey’ resulted in tour fisticuffs.
Then, the sun-kissed, languid ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ appeared, with its swoon-some production from the Robb Brothers (“All done at LA’s Cherokee Studios by the brothers, a threesome of siblings who had a band called the Robbs in the ’60s who, instead of playing down the acoustic poppy side of Dando’s music, or burying it in studio gloss, let his songs speak for themselves.”), and – eventually – that monstrous break-out throwaway cover of a single, ‘Mrs. Robinson’ (Paul Simon reportedly hated it)…
‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ had a considerable impact back in those heady, carefree days of ’92, his ability effortlessly gave voice to teenage longing and lust over the course of a two-minute pop song with mere happy chance.
Singles such as ‘My Drug Buddy’ and the breezy perfect pop of the title track might stand out (plus the add-on of ‘Mrs. Robinson’ which later copies included), but the album’s real strength lies in the tracks in-between; the truly fantastic ‘Confetti‘ (written about Evan’s parents’ divorce), and the eye-wateringly casual acoustic cover of ‘Frank Mills’ (from the “hippie” musical Hair), a version that seems to resonate with every ounce of pathos and emotion felt for the lost 1960s generation. To hear Evan Dando sing lines like ‘I love him/but it embarrasses me/To walk down the street with him/He lives in Brooklyn somewhere/And he wears his white crash helmet’ is to truly appreciate how wonderful and tantalising pop music can be. Then, there’s the rush of insurgency and brattishness on the wonderfully truncated ‘Bit Part’; the topsy-turvy ‘Ceiling Fan In My Spoon’… this was male teenage skinny-tie pop music on a level of brilliance with The Kinks, early Undertones, Wipers.
On the Australian trip, Evan met future songwriting partner Smudge’s Tom Morgan and future Lemonheads’ bassist, Half A Cow’s Nic Dalton. His friendship with Dalton and Morgan, and their friends — leading lights in the Sydney DIY rock scene — brought a sense of camaraderie and communality to ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ that had perhaps been missing from ‘Lovey’. The whole album is a blast, an insight into what it’s like to live hard and fast and loose and happy with likeminded buddies, fuelled by a shared love for similar bands and drugs and booze and freedom.
– Everett True, 2021
Out now, this special collector’s 30th Anniversary edition release features a second disc which includes an unreleased ‘My Drug Buddy’ KCRW session track from 1992 featuring Juliana Hatfield, B-sides from singles ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ and ‘Confetti’, a track from the ‘Mrs. Robinson/Being Round’ EP alongside demos that will be released for the first time on vinyl. This deluxe reissue celebrates their prestigious fifth album featuring new liner notes and unseen photos.
Available on deluxe limited edition double LP & bookback CD
Featuring essential & unreleased extras: b-sides, demos, covers & KCRW 1992 session track with unseen photos and new liner notes