The Lemonheads – Lovey & Car Button Cloth (deluxe reissues)

In the slipstream of Fire’s recent deluxe versions of the band’s TAANG!-era releases comes Edsel reissues from The Lemonheads’ catalogue on Atlantic Records.  With 1993’s classic It’s A Shame About Ray and 1993’s charming Come On Feel The Lemonheads not being part of this additional campaign – due to licensing issues – the focus falls upon the group’s major label years bookends, with these new expanded editions of 1990’s Lovey and 1996’s Car Button Cloth, allowing us extra insight into the initial rise and subsequent fall of The Lemonheads in the 1990s.

The Lemonheads - Lovey (deluxe edition)

The Lemonheads – Lovey (deluxe edition)

Upon signing to Atlantic via future Thrill Jockey founder Bettina Richards to release Lovey, The Lemonheads consisted of Evan Dando on vocals and guitar (as de facto leader after the exit of co-founder Ben Deily following 1989’s Lick), veteran bassist Jesse Peretz and new drummer David Ryan. With Dando sharpening his melodic focus whilst adding more acoustic textures and wider influences, Lovey was another step closer to the honeyed melodicism of It’s A Shame About Ray.  Not that the band had fully-jettisoned de rigueur loyalties to the Hüsker Dü-loving trappings of the time.  Hence, the album features some amiable gear-shifts (the jangling “Half The Time,” the nostalgic pull of “Ride With Me,” the bubble-gum fuzz-pop pleasures of “Stove” and a gorgeous acoustic cover of Gram Parsons’ “Brass Buttons”) but also some dated grungy gristle (the caterwauling borderline-metal of “Ballarat,” the churning plod of “Lil’ Seed” and the ponderous sludge of “(The) Door”).  This reissue does, however, add some choice period non-album tracks to offset the somewhat outmoded passages of the original album.  Highlights amongst such extras include an elevating version of Michael Nesmith’s “Different Drum,” a gentler acoustic makeover of “Ride With Me” and skeletal unplugged rendition of The Misfits’ “Skulls.”  Such lost treasures aside, the jury is still out on the ironic synth and drum-machine assisted cover of New Kids On The Block’s “Step By Step.”

The Lemonheads - Car Button Cloth (deluxe edition)

The Lemonheads – Car Button Cloth (deluxe edition)

By the time of 1996’s Car Button Cloth, The Lemonheads had essentially become a solo Dando venture with no band members being carried over from the albums since Lovey.  Although cut after a three-year ‘lost weekend’ and bearing the hallmarks of an artist squandering commercial and critical goodwill, Car Button Cloth has actually improved somewhat with the passage of time.  Whilst its self-distracted dilettantism does still yield some weak, lazy and just plain sloppy moments – such as the listlessly chugging “Something’s Missing,” the pointless attempt at over-familiar murder ballad “Knoxville Girl” and the bizarre closing instrumental “Secular Rockulidge” – there are more subtle highs than genuine lows.  Therefore, “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” weds heartache to an uplifting folk-pop melody, the countrified cover of Smudge’s self-deprecating “The Outdoor Type” still raises a heart-warming smile, “Losing Your Mind” appears more plaintive than we might have realised before, “C’Mon Daddy” feels like a lost blue-eyed soul experiment and the yearning “Tenderfoot” shows an affectionate affinity with Bakesale-era Sebadoh.

The appended bonus disc of contemporaneous EPs and singles offers up a decidedly mixed 15-track bag of ‘90s multi-format single space-filling.  Thus, some true disasters happen with car-crash covers of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” (in both acoustic and electric versions no less), Oasis’s “Live Forever” and REO Speedwagon’s “Keeping On Loving You” and through the near-to-unlistenable sound collage of “Seagulls Aren’t Free.”  Yet there are some gems to be rediscovered in the shape of the delightful Go-Betweens-like take on The Jacobites’ “Pin Yr Heart,” a desolate radio session version of “Losing Your Mind,” a superior single mix of “The Outdoor Type,” a makeover of Doug Sahm’s “I Don’t Want To Go Home” and a soaring reinterpretation of the Volcano Suns’ “Balancing Act” (featuring guest guitar from Lee Renaldo).

So whilst together these latest Lemonheads reissues don’t offer anything revelatory or radical, they do at least remind long-time Evan Dando followers that the promised rebirth of The Lemonheads might be worth waiting around for.