Evan Dando – Baby I’m Bored

Evan Dando - Baby I'm Bored

Evan Dando - Baby I'm Bored

Evan Dando may have slipped off many people’s radar sometime after The Lemonheads’ sloppy drug-damaged swansong Car Button Cloth (1996), but few of us really doubted that he’d be back for a second bite at the big rock candy eventually. After all, what else could Evan Dando really do? Can you really imagine the one-time indie heartthrob packing your groceries at Wal-Mart or flipping greasy burgers at your unfriendly neighbourhood Burger King? No, like it or lump it, this man was made for rock ‘n’ roll, in all its twisted and radiant forms.

Even though a staggering seven years have passed since an album of all-new Dando material last surfaced, it’s clear that the downtime hasn’t done him any major disservice – quite the contrary it seems. Dando is now (a little) wiser, somewhat calmer and above all, drug-free. And instead of clinging to the clunky guitars and shabby songwriting that drove even loyal listeners to distraction on Car Button Cloth, Dando has homed in on his three greatest gifts – his honeycombed voice, his gift for melody and his talented friends. In fact, without the latter it’s unlikely that Baby I’m Bored would have made it to the finish of Dando’s wobbly production line as soon as it has done. Thus Chris Brokaw (Come, Pullman) adds drums and guitars, Royston Langdon (Spacehog) provides yelping backing vocals and hand-claps, Jon Brion (session man to Aimee Mann, Badly Drawn Boy et al.) twiddles some studio knobs and co-pens/plays on a handful of songs, Giant Sand append proceedings on two tracks, and long-time Dando disciples Tom Morgan and Ben Lee donate some previously unrecorded material. The musical beddings are then, as you might expect, a far cry from the bubble-gum fuzz of Come On Feel The Lemonheads, but that’s not to say that Baby I’m Bored is Dando’s much rumoured all-acoustic country album either. Instead, Dando conjures up a combination of The Lemonheads’ It’s A Shame About Ray, Buffalo Tom’s Smitten and Wilco’s Summerteeth – fashioning this year’s most essential post-rehab record in the process.

The net results are, for the most part, beguiling and beyond expectations. Jon Brion’s well-honed professionalism is a good guiding influence; steering Dando into sumptuous 3am ruminations (“Shots Is Fired”), harmony-fuelled power-pop (“It Looks Like You”) and biographical storytelling (“Why Do You Do This To Yourself?”). Giant Sand’s gorgeous backing tracks on the album’s atmospheric centrepiece “Hard Drive” (written by Ben Lee) and its rustic closer “In The Grass All Wine Colored” are beautifully well measured. The narcotic chug of “Rancho Sante Fe” could pass as one of the better tracks from Car Button Cloth. The adorable “All My Life” (another brilliant Ben Lee composition) shows us that beneath Dando’s dishevelled demeanour, there still lies the same consummate interpreter of song that previously did magically bittersweet things with Smudge’s “The Outdoor Type” and Gram Parsons’ “Brass Buttons” (amongst many others).

Baby I’m Bored isn’t all so well formulated however. There’s a strong feeling (confirmed by a surreptitious spin through one of the Dando demo CDRs which have circulating amongst A&R men during the last few years) that some of these songs have been tampered with way too much. Whereas the demo incarnations of “Repeat” and (deep breath) “The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is The Same Part I Can Live Without” were lush lilting treats, arguably on par with the best of It’s A Shame About Ray, these final finished versions are horribly scolded by the same unnecessarily messy guitar noise that made The Lemonheads such underachievers prior to Lovey. Moreover, the album sometimes lacks the sonic and stylistic cohesion needed to make it a fully rounded and totally re-energised return to form. This facet is no doubt brought to bear by recording the album in three different studios, with four or five different engineers/producers over an ill-disciplined self-funded four-year stretch. A full-album of Giant Sand-backed/Jon Brion produced recordings might have made for a more considered and consistent listening experience.

Gripes aside though, the fact that Dando has returned with an album as strong as Baby I’m Bored is cause for celebration in itself. The fact that it also contains a handful of his finest ever recorded moments is two in the eye for his detractors and doubters. The fact that he’s finally found a direct route to the core of his burning but beautiful sadness, illustrates that this weathered wonder-dog still has more than just legs to keep running on. What comes next could (and should) be magical, but in the meantime Baby I’m Bored is a remarkably pleasant distraction from the grinding day-to-day gloss of the corporate music world.

Setanta / Bar None