Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cycle of CDs: The Lemonheads - 'It's a Shame About Ray' (1992)

Yes, the first song I ever heard by the Lemonheads was a cover that they did. It truly defined them for me, though, at least for at least a little while. Their version of "Mrs. Robinson" was great for various reasons: it was already a popular song, it gave the band a chance to let people know their style, and they did a hell of a job of putting their spin on it. I really regret not putting it on my list of favorite covers.

And, I pretty much of bought It's a Shame About Ray because of that cover song.

The Lemonheads, almost as their name implies, were (and still are on most counts) just a perfect, sweet, pop band. Most folks will label them as indie, rock, or alternative, but that's not the case. They are pop.

See, it goes back to at least part of my theory on cover bands -- they used to be a great stepping stone for bands to get their start and to learn their trade before doing it themselves. It wasn't shameful or dull. People, not very different from today, like to go out and hear a band play their favorite songs. Forty and fifty years ago, though, popular songs played on the radio were actually good. The Beatles were a pop band. So were Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Chuck Berry. Who would be ashamed to play Beatles covers, even if it was "I Want to Hold Your Hand"? Somewhere, I would venture to say just after Michael Jackson peaked, pop music became disgusting, simplifying its music, its words, and its range. Our culture, on the whole, became dumb. What would a cover band have to play now that is considered "popular"? Miley Cyrus? The Black-Eyed Peas? Katie Perry? Those are usually names I see on the Top 40 Lists.

I've digressed. True, guitar-driven pop music still exists, though, and it's still as good as some of the original pop music of the late Fifties and Sixties -- you know, back when bands played their instruments and at least wrote some of their songs.

That's where The Lemonheads fall in the musical spectrum for me. And, It's a Shame About Ray is a wonderful, guitar-driven, pop record. I'd go so far to call it a masterpiece of its time if it wasn't for "Ceiling Fan in My Spoon," which isn't bad. It just sounds lacking compared to the rest of the tracks.

But, oh my God, the rest of the CD? I've never gotten tired of it.

First of all, the sentimental tracks are just beautifully made, no matter their content. Take "My Drug Buddy," a tale of two friends (I like to assume one of them is a girl), who are friends due to their shared interest in drugs, maybe beyond. "Hannah and Gabi," a cute tune of beginnings and doubt, has one of my favorite lines on the entire record ("Though it wasn't hard or far/I walked you to your car").

The rockers are just plain fun. The opening, hectic riff of "Rockin' Stroll" starts the album off perfectly. "Kitchen," another song of romantic beginnings, can't be beat, either, especially with lines like, "I'll tell you things I know you like to know/Treat me to cake every night" and "We repeat the same stories/But, of course, never in front of friends/How it all started in the kitchen/Remember the time when you said we could wait a while?/You'd let me know when you changed your mind/Yeah, I was sad for some time."

Add that to the fact that Juliana Hatfield played bass and sang idealized backing vocals for the album, and you've got a collection of songs that you'll want around forever.

Nevermind Evan Dando's dick-and-douche personality in his live shows. Forget the cover, which was originally included only as a bonus track. You'll get addicted to the simple greatness that is The Lemonheads with this one CD.

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