Lemonheads - Varshons
Michael James Hall 10/06/2009
Known to the masses mainly for their ragged cover of 'Mrs Robinson' and vocalist/songwriter Evan Dando's heroic intake of crack, The Lemonheads have been a band beloved by a small band of faithful followers for the best part of two decades.
Through ever-changing line-ups and various stints in and out of rehab, Dando has crafted a back catalogue of rare beauty, delicate songsmithery and often beguiling charm.
Though they're unlikely to better the utterly perfect thirty-two minutes of fuzzing country-pop that is 1992's 'Shame About Ray', a new release from pop's shaggy troubadour is enough, at least, to raise a sentimental summer smile of curiosity.
A covers album is an awkward beast - sometimes representing a dearth of ideas or a swift exit from an ill-fated recording contract - and an artist has to approach it with as much caution as a listener.
Too many obvious, well known tunes will mark the band as chancers attempting to garner a hit from others work (particularly shaky ground for Dando considering their biggest hit). Too many obscurities and the listener is liable to lose interest as the band bash through yet another Nurse with Wound b-side.
Dando gets the balance just right here, mixing up underground gems like GG Allin's hilariously politically incorrect 'Layin' Up With Linda' (sample lyric 'I got pissed and I killed 'er') with tender takes on classics like Leonard Cohen's 'That's No Way To Say Goodbye' (featuring a surprisingly competent vocal contribution from actress Liv Tyler) and album opener 'I Just Can't Take It Anymore' - an absolutely gorgeous version of the Gram Parsons original.
Wire's 'Fragile' is given the full acoustic Dando treatment and comes off both tender and despairing while his take on Towns Van Zandt's 'Waiting Around to Die' is a bleak, troubling affair that cuts straight to the heart of the song.
Certainly there are a couple of diversions into indulgence - case in point being the Kate Moss 'enhanced' take on Arling & Cameron's 'Dirty Robot', a throbbing piece of disposable electronica redeemed by its ludicrous lyrics ('I am a dirty robot'), and the trashy psychadelia of July's 'Dandelion Seeds' that comes across as lazy and, well, pointless.
For the most part though, this remains a winning set of tunes with plenty of naïve humour, honey-coated melodies and a clear respect and love of the original artists.
While closer 'Beautiful' (yes, that one) will raise chuckles at its start, it somehow develops into a heartwarming, beatific bit of shimmering, singalong goodness - a microcosm of the album as a whole.
A slight but adorable summer treat.