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Albums Of The Week: Lemonheads | It’s A Shame About Ray 30th Anniversary Edition

Evan Dando's breakthrough set returns with an extra disc of demos & other rarities.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “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 likeable 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 PersonalitiesDan 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), 1990’s underpraised, and underselling 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 L.A.’s Cherokee Studios by the brothers, a threesome of siblings who had a band called The Robbs in the ’60s and 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 breakout, 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, as Dando’s 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 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. Then, there’s the rush of insurgency and brattishness on the wonderfully truncated Bit Part; the topsy-turvy Ceiling Fan In My Spoon and more. this was male teenage skinny-tie pop music on a level of brilliance with The Kinks, early Undertones and Wipers.

On an Australian trip, Evan met a future songwriting partner in Smudge’s Tom Morgan and a future Lemonheads’ bassist in 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.”