The Lemonheads, the college rock favorites of the mid 1980’s, found themselves becoming international pop-sensations come 1992. It was a series of circumstances that brought them to this unlikely place, where there they would sit for the next few years. This included a huge rise in an music resembling alternative rock and the timing and recording of an all time Simon and Garfunkel favorite. It would all come tumbling down rather spectacularly though, before the band would regroup in the late 2000’s.
In 1992 the classic movie “The Graduate” was being promoted for it’s release on video, with someone having the brilliant idea of capitalizing on the rise of alternative rock with a modern cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”. In retrospect, it was a sure fire formula for success. Take a classic song from a classic movie, re-recorded by a band associated with the hip musical trend of the moment, and you get a hit. Which the studios did. It also help introduce the Lemonheads and it’s singer, Evan Dando to the world.
The band had recorded a number of strong albums up to that point, but the label and media interest also helpfully caught them at their creative peek. Focus and vision would be lost only a few years later, but for a time the Lemonheads were the softer alternative to the more hard rock leanings of alternative rock bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. It also helped that Dando was heavily promoted in magazines and videos, like a softer spoken version of Cobain himself.
It was this reputation that would follow the band for most of their careers. While Dando’s songwriting skills are clearly evident, and while through their several incarnations the Lemonheads remained a strong alt-rock band, they are mostly remembered for their heavily featured music videos and string of successful singles (at least to the general public).
The Lemonheads had released one album already on Atlantic records (“Lovey”) and on the strength of their cover of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” had toured Europe. It was their album “A shame about Ray”, that with the help of bankable singles and the major label support, made them world famous. It is also perhaps their masterwork, shifting freely between alternative rock, country and punk rock while delivering a very strong collection of songs. Besides the obvious mentions of “Mrs. Robinson” and “It’s a shame about Ray”, there is also the punk rock fantasy of “Alison’s Starting to Happen” , the loose “My Drug Buddy” and the prophetic (given the band’s future) “Rudderless”.
The band recorded two more albums for the label “Come on feel the Lemonheads”(1993) and “Car button cloth” (1996), that showed signs of brilliance, but also a lack of interest in making a memorable set of songs from start to finish. It was in these years also that Dando struggled to balance his new found fame (even appearing in several movies) with his growing songwriting skills. Dando always cited diverse influences from Black Flag to Gram Parsons, from Abba to Leonard Cohen.
In 1998 Atlantic presumably decided to cut their losses and with no new Lemonheads album on the horizon and the popularity of group waning, released a best of package from the recording years of the band on the label. It did showcase a ’90’s alternative band with a great ear for melody, varied musical influences, a group that at their best had the singles and the deep cuts go along with those.
In the years that followed, Evan Dando seemed to lose interest in his rock star status and even in his status as component musician. He did release a solo album in 2003, titled “Baby I’m bored”, that while not without some weak points, did show the same concentrated brilliance on some of the songs.
It was difficult to discern at times from Evan Dando solo endeavours to he Lemonheads as a band entity, but under the band moniker they continued to tour on again – off again until today. 2009 had them release a new album, the collection of covers “Varshons”. It was a logical step for a band that had always specialized in covers. The album featured songs from artists as diverse as Leonard Cohen, G.G. Allin and, of course, the long time favorite, Gram Parsons. Since then the Lemonheads (or Dando, on his own) have performed, mostly old favorites, to fans mostly enamored with ’90’s alternative rock.
The Lemonheads produced a strong catalog and some occasional gems, but always left the feeling that there could have been more to their music, if they’d only found the time in their ever busier schedules throughout the ’90’s.