The Lemonheads – Hate Your Friends, Creator & Lick (deluxe reissues)

The Lemonheads - deluxe reissues

The Lemonheads – deluxe reissues

With Evan Dando having somewhat squandered the legacy of The Lemonheads’ much-loved 1990s major label output – largely through resuscitating the band name in recent years as a vehicle for his listless solo journeying across 2006’s lazy forgettable The Lemonheads and 2009’s patchy Varshons covers collection –  it’s a relief to read reports that he’s been putting together a potentially more democratic old-guard assisted line-up for a fresh studio album.  Reportedly working with both It’s A Shame About Ray-era member Juliana Hatfield and original group co-founder Ben Deily, hopes are higher for a latter-day Lemonheads release than they’ve been for some time.  Armed with this knowledge, now seems as good time as any to revisit the 1980s Ben Deily-featuring episodes of The Lemonheads’ lengthy soap opera, with expanded reissues of the band’s first three long-players.

The Lemonheads - Hate Your Friends (deluxe reissue)

The Lemonheads – Hate Your Friends (deluxe reissue)

Having formed at high school in Boston during 1986, the initial twosome of Dando and Deily (swapping duties on vocals, drums and guitar) properly cemented themselves as The Lemonheads after hooking-up with bassist Jesse Peretz.  After the scrappily-cut and DIY-released Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners EP, the band signed-up with TAANG! Records for the piecemeal-recorded Hate Your Friends (1987).  Also featuring drumming from the passing-through Doug Trachten, the debut Lemonheads LP (now bolstered with some likeable period rarities and hissy live radio session recordings) has aged surprisingly well.  Whilst barely concealing contemporary and childhood musical influences, Hate Your Friends still packs in its juvenilia with bite and charm, with Deily and Dando working well as a team and as distinctive characters.  Hence we find Dando channelling hardcore-phase Hüsker Dü (“Nothing True”), early-Black Flag (“Belt”), The Buzzcocks (for the title-track) and The Ramones (“I Don’t Wanna”) with a mixture of insouciant raggedness and nascent melodic poise.  In contrast, Deily’s songs are steelier and more post-punk shaped, with a slighter more intimidating edge, which yields the mighty Mission Of Burma-like “394,” the menacingly catchy “Second Chance,” the gut-spilling “Uhh” and a heartily disrespectful cover of “Amazing Grace.”  Dando and Deily also come together spiritedly to interchange vocals on the all-too-brief snot-flecked punkoid “Fucked Up,” which ends the original LP sequence with an emphatic stomp.

The Lemonheads - Creator (reissue)

The Lemonheads – Creator (deluxe reissue)

For the sophomore Creator (1988), Dando, Deily and Peretz were augmented temporarily by The Blake Babies’ John Strohm on drums, for arguably the most ambitious and diverse of the opening Lemonheads trilogy.  With sharpened songwriting, some curveball covers and greater musical sophistication, the album is a more matured and textured affair.  Deily, in particular, spreads himself thicker and more effectively across Creator; delivering highlights with the gritty “Burying Ground” (a composite homage to Grant Hart’s “Diane” and “Pink Turns To Blue”), the yearning acoustic ballad “Postcard,” the Buffalo Tom-flavoured “Come To The Window” and the raw folk-rocking “Falling.”  Dando takes more of a back seat on the record as a whole, preferring to use other people’s songs make his presence felt the most. Hence, his key cuts are a balmy – though of course unethical – unplugged interpretation of Charles Manson’s “Your Home Is Where You’re Happy” and a wilfully cartoonish take on “Plaster Caster” from the Kiss songbook.

The Lemonheads - Lick (deluxe reissue)

The Lemonheads – Lick (deluxe reissue)

Although the Deily-Dando-Peretz-led incarnation of The Lemonheads had ostensibly broken-up in the wake of Creator, a European tour invitation brought them back together (with Corey Loog Brennan providing extra guitar).  The foursome only managed to cut five new original songs to form the basis of Lick (1989).  Having originally been fleshed-out with outtakes and covers previously recorded in/around the sessions for Hate Your Friends and Creator, the album is still an inevitably disjointed affair, which clearly marks the ascendency of Dando to top-dog status at the expense of Deily.  Nevertheless, if viewed as an oddments round-up instead of a bona fide long-player, there are some buried treasures to be found from both of them amongst the messier material.  Thus, on the Dando-front, the chiming “Mallo Cup” and the melancholic “A Circle Of One” delightfully map out the more honeyed post-Deily trajectory towards the seminal It’s A Shame About Ray and a grungy yet soaring cover of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” remains one of his most inspired makeovers.  Deily bows out of the band on a high; with the Gang Of Four-meets-R.E.M. angularity of “7 Powers” and the joyously bitter break-up song “Anyway.”  (To round-up the three-part reissue series near-definitively – albeit with a little chronological confusion – this expanded version of Lick appends the aforementioned Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners EP, alongside rough-edged live recordings akin to those now also attached to Hate Your Friends and Creator.)

Whether Ben Deily and Evan Dando can recapture the endearing spread of guts, heart, darkness and humour from these dusted-off museum pieces for their studio reunion remains to be heard.  In the interim though, these three thoughtfully-rendered reissues provide some well-recalled and expanded fond memories to untarnish The Lemonheads brand.

Fire Records