Hating your friends
Come on Feel The Lemonheads
by Adam Perry
(for Boulder Weekly, 6/11/09)
The cover is a polarizing thing.
Some people prefer the off-the-wall cover — take “My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane, “Satisfaction” by Devo or “Tomorrow Never Knows” by Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera — classic tunes re-interpreted in a fresh and inventive style where only the original over-lying melody is still present but the weight of the initial spirit successfully shines through the vision of a different performer.
Some prefer the faithful cover — see the Sea and Cake’s “Sound & Vision,” “Four Strong Winds” by Neil Young or “Waitin’ Around to Die” by the Be Good Tanyas — a new artist does justice to a beloved favorite by giving it the honest essence of their unique talent, whether it’s a screaming guitar solo or brilliant female sensibility.
Some just prefer the sound of a deep-voiced early-’90s alt-rock sex symbol playing anything.
I fall in the first category — the Feelies’ raging “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)” and the New Bomb Turks’ half-time hardcore version of Wire’s “Mr. Suit” are near the top of my list of favorite covers — but I have to admit that the one-time title holder of People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” Evan Dando has something for every finicky music geek on his new covers LP, Varshons, just released on The End Records.
Just about everyone who’s had even a toe in the waters of the music industry has a friend with an “I know someone who dated Evan Dando” story. Famous for fronting The Lemonheads, who rose to worldwide fame with their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” in 1992, Dando pretty much disappeared in the mid-to-late ’90s, succumbing to crack addiction and the temptation that comes with being able to sleep with just about everyone who’s had a toe in the waters of the music industry.
Thus, between 1996 and 2006 there were no Lemonheads releases, although in that time Dando put out his only solo album (2003’s Baby I’m Bored) and made the tabloids for partying with people like Courtney Love and Johnny Depp. The former Boston alt-rock dude went all L.A.
The L.A. part hasn’t changed with the new covers album, as Kate Moss and Liv Tyler both appear as guest vocalists on Varshons, but Dando seems to have at least partially returned to the playful nature of It’s a Shame About Ray and even earlier Lemonheads albums.
Dando’s versions of “Waitin’ Around to Die” (Townes Van Zandt) and “Beautiful” (written by Linda Perry but made famous by Christina Aguilera) won’t exactly bowl anyone over: they’re faithful (but stale) covers by someone with a an exceptional voice. “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” (Leonard Cohen) is a similar story; it’s a song that’s been covered a lot, and despite the fact that it’s a duet with Tyler, nothing remarkable happens.
Dando’s balladeer rendition of the Cramps’ punk classic “Green Fuzz” (originally by Texas’ Green Fuz) is something special, though.
He took a slow-churning, campy psychedelic-rockabilly song and made it a soulful, melancholy croon. That’s exactly the kind of 180 some of us go for.
Whether this entertaining — what else can you call an album where a G.G. Allin cover precedes an electro-clash collaboration with Kate Moss? — cover album will steer the 42-year-old Dando’s rejuvenated career into more interesting musical territory than The Lemonheads’ self-titled 2006 comeback album, it’s impossible to predict. I’m not even sure why they’re called The Lemonheads and not something like Evan Dando and Friends, as the two other original members were gone by 1987, and the most memorable Lemonheads lineup (with Juliana Hatfield) only lasted for a few years in the early ’90s.
I do know that sobriety is a good thing, and Evan Dando puts on a decent live show when he’s not hours late. Plus, the reality that he’s been divisive enough to have inspired a famous “anti-Dando” fanzine means he must have done something right. Pissing people off takes serious work, as does surviving not only crack but Courtney Love — but hey, words can’t bring him down.