July 5, 2017
Released In August, 1988
Released By Taang! Records
The Lemonheads are a band that alt-rockers of a certain age probably remember quite well — after all, their cover of “Mrs. Robinson” was inescapable on MTV in 1993 or so. The version of The Lemonheads showcased in that inescapable video was a relatively cohesive trio, which was responsible for The Lemonheads’ most popular material. However, the band went through many more twists and turns over the course of their long-running career, during which any members besides singer/guitarist Evan Dando ultimately proved themselves to be temporary.
I discovered all of this as a young college student with disposable income. A lot of that cash went to cassettes purchased at the Sam Goody in Virginia Center Commons mall (hey, it was the early ’90s). At one point, my love for both It’s A Shame About Ray (the breakthrough Lemonheads album, featuring that “Mrs. Robinson” cover) and its follow-up, Come On Feel The Lemonheads, led me to snatch up the band’s entire discography. Creator was the last Lemonheads album I acquired during this binge, and what I found was a complete surprise — and certainly a welcome one.
You see, The Lemonheads weren’t always just Evan Dando’s band. Dando formed the group with another guitar-slinging songwriter, Ben Deily. Due to their difficulties finding a drummer, Dando and Deily worked out an arrangement in which they’d switch instruments during shows, each playing drums on the other’s songs. The results can be heard on their debut album, Hate Your Friends, which has the toughest, most overtly punk sound The Lemonheads would display in their career. Lesser-known co-frontman Deily’s contributions are somewhat infrequent and tend not to have the staying power of Dando’s best contributions. From listening to Hate Your Friends, you’d think that the order of things was already becoming established, with Dando’s eventual sole frontman status a foregone conclusion.
Deily ended up leaving the band during sessions for their third album, Lick, to which he only contributed two songs. But Creator, the album that came between Hate Your Friends and Lick, is a total outlier. Alone amongst The Lemonheads discography, it gives us a glimpse of a Deily-led Lemonheads. Dando is here, to be sure, but eight of the 13 songs on Creator are written and sung by Deily. Dando’s five contributions include two covers, of Kiss and uh, Charles Manson. Dando’s three originals don’t merit that much discussion either — “Clang Bang Clang” was rerecorded with slightly better results as “Left For Dead” on the fourth Lemonheads album, Lovey. It ends with a sample from a Charles Manson prison recording, which dovetails with the cover of “Your Home Is Where You’re Happy,” credited in the liner notes to “No Name Maddox” (Charles Manson’s legal name at the time of his birth). “Out” is a downcast midtempo rocker that can easily be counted amongst Dando’s less memorable melodies, though it does have a pretty excellent guitar solo.
It’s Deily’s songs that have really left a lasting impression on me, though. The album starts strongly with “Burying Ground,” a darkly frenetic track with gothic subject matter and an opening sample that lifts the rain-and-churchbells intro from the same Black Sabbath album Dando swipes lyrics from in “Die Right Now” — I’m guessing this one was getting a lot of play in the tour van around this time. “Sunday“‘s verses continue with the driving minor-chord punk showcased on “Burying Ground,” but stand in contrast to the acoustic strumming on the song’s breathily crooned chorus. Deily’s voice, it must be acknowledged, is rather weak and reedy on the whole. However, it works well for the musical mood he creates on this album, combining nicely with his moody riffing and emotionally-driven lyrics.
Side one has some definite highlights, but side two is the real killer here. “Two Weeks In Another Town” speaks of the alienation of tour life over some driving drum work from John Strohm, moonlighting from his regular gig in the Blake Babies and allowing for the Dando-Deily twin guitar attack that helps distinguish this album. “Come To The Window,” which features a Matthew Arnold epigraph, is Deily’s attempt at romantic pastoral, painting a picture of a beautiful landscape. He ties this in with a heartfelt declaration of love and loyalty that has made this song a personal crush-mixtape staple for nearly a quarter-century now. Ending the song with the line “Seasons come, seasons go, I’ll always be here,” Deily knocks this one right out of the park.
There are other tracks here that contribute to my love for this album — “Postcard“‘s gorgeous acoustic reverie, “Take Her Down“‘s captivating lyrical turns of phrase — but what makes it most precious to me is that it’s basically the only album we have by this band. Years after leaving The Lemonheads, Deily started a band called Varsity Drag, who are still active and do release singles on occasion. However, the vision Creator presents of a Deily-led Lemonheads is one that can only be found here. As much as I love all the Dando-helmed albums that were still to come at the time of Creator‘s release, I can’t help but wish that this other band had existed alongside it. Based on the evidence of this album, I assume it would have been excellent.
The Lemonhead’s original line-up of bassist Jesse Peretz, and co-songwriters Evan Dando & Ben Deily.
Where have The Lemonheads been all my life? As is the answer to most of the big questions I’ve ever asked, right in front of me. Despite considering myself a fan of DIY alternative bands/college radio rock from the ’80s, The Lemonheads were a band that I slept on until now. Yeah, I’ve heard their cover of “Mrs. Robinson” and I’m sure stray songs have popped up here and there while listening to The Replacements Pandora station, but Creator is my first real run-in with The Lemonheads in long player format, and I can’t believe that I waited so long. It’s got everything that I love: raspy vocals throughout, clunky and distorted guitars, songs about the monotony of living in a small town (“Two Weeks In Another Town“) or not having a clear direction in life (“Falling“), oddly sequenced quasi-ballads (a cover of Charles Manson’s “Your Home Is Where You’re Happy“), and even a Kiss cover that’s better than the original (“Plaster Caster“). As bandleader Evan Dando mentions during the radio interview bonus track, the band doesn’t mind comparisons to Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, because they want to be “as derivative as possible.” There’s definitely an air of sarcasm in his response, but at the same time there’s a ring of truth to it — and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s because of those similarities that Creator has just about everything to become my new favorite album. The only downside I’ve found with this album is that I’m definitely more drawn to the songs performed by Ben Deily, who left the band while recording their third album, Lick. That’s not really a problem with Creator as an album, but it does signify to me that it’s entirely possible that my love affair with The Lemonheads will only be three albums long. But if Creator is any indication, at least it will be a good three albums.
I found that the most engaging, moving moments of Creator were the somber departures from the norm. While the raucous energy of “Sunday” and “Falling” is certainly infectious, The Lemonheads’ somber, reflective side is what really got my juices flowing. The album’s first acoustic number, “Your Home Is Where You’re Happy,” is an inspiring affirmation of self-confidence and finding peace within oneself. It’s a reassuring piece to everyone who ever thought they weren’t good enough: “They’ll show you their castles and diamonds for all to see, but they’ll never show you their peace of mind, cause they don’t know how to be free.” I think all of us in our mid-thirties can relate to the fear that we haven’t done enough with our lives. We haven’t saved enough money. Everyone is doing “better” than me. The message here is literally the song title: your home is where you’re happy. Contentment with who you are as a person will always outshine any diamonds you could possibly flaunt. Or as the Lemonheads put it even better: “Just as long as you’ve got love in your heart, you’ll never be alone.” The second acoustic venture is “Postcard,” an emotional story of a broken couple wondering if it might be possible to stay in touch post-breakup, despite the damage that’s been done. Even though the record was released in 1988, I think the idea of sending someone a postcard then was probably just as sentimental of an idea as it is now. It takes effort, money and a whole lot of thought, as opposed to a short call, text or email. “Could it be that hard, send me a postcard?” Yea, it is. And that’s the point.
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
The Lemonheads stand out in my memory as one of the bands my sister was into when we were young. Like, late elementary school/early middle school for me and late middle school/early elementary school for her; that young. The cover art for Come On Feel The Lemonheads seems the most familiar, but one thing I definitely remember is my sister going to the Boathouse in Norfolk to see them live. I texted her earlier this week, and two gems surfaced: 1. That she can’t believe our parents let her go to that show when she was 14, and 2. When I asked whether she was into Creator at the time, she said “Or into Evan Dando, more like.” He was, I’m told, “mad dreamy.” Strangely enough, I think those feelings shaped the vague impression of the band that I’ve had for years — that it was entirely his deal. It’s fascinating to explore a version of the group in which he’s one of two creative forces. The division of labor seems not unlike that of Uncle Tupelo, with Ben Deily playing the part of Jay Farrar (more textured voice, destined to leave the band) and Dando as the Jeff Tweedy figure (vocals with a contrasting sense of purity, destined for broader commercial success). While I do get more enjoyment out of Dando-sung Creator tracks like “Clang Bang Clang” and “Die Right Now,” I’m most struck by the co-leadership arrangement — how youthful and idyllic it seems in retrospect, like people approaching Robert Frost’s fork in the road, not having been forced to make a decision yet.
The Lemonheads’ early records were dominated by the songwriting hot potato of Ben Deily & Evan Dando, which carried over into concerts at the time.
After giving Creator a listen, I feel like a complete fool for not listening to The Lemonheads sooner. Each song has a stunning low-fi feel to it, one that isn’t trying too hard or exploding with pompousness. I can smell too-cool-for-you low-fi from a mile away — fortunately, The Lemonheads don’t strike me as that kind of band. Rather, it sounds as though they managed to spring a leak of genius on this release. If you’re looking for punk rock neat and shiny in a tiny box, you’ve come to the wrong place. Creator isn’t that album. It’s playing up to what was punk rock and power pop in the late 1980s and delivering some foreshadowing to what would later be the explosion of grunge in the 1990s. It’s invigorating to hear something old that sounds new — for me, it means that I’ve been staring at the present for too long. It’s time for me to look back and remember that those who came before have something to offer. It doesn’t always have to be about the next best thing in music. The Lemonheads have nailed down that pristine and heartwarming niche of punk that has the potential to be more than just memorable. It hits in the right places. The rhythm in each song carries longevity and obvious thought. These aren’t standard “punk” songs, so forget what you thought punk was before. Creator ebbs and flows without being too poppy, and yet it’s still hard, melodic, and extremely danceable. I’m just preparing myself to dive into the band’s complete discography. I smell a new obsession coming on.
When a band is nicely placed within the brackets of alternative rock, with some stripes of indie and a slice of punk, what results from such, and way these particular three elements are rationed out for the Lemonheads’ singular sound, isn’t all that surprising. The instrumentation, the selected tones for songs (the jangly guitar tone in the second track, “Sunday” is right in the classic R.E.M. / definitive late ’80s-’90s alternative band playbook), and the general flow of the tempos on their 1988 release, Creator, undeniably show the colors of the aforementioned three stylistic main ingredients so in that regard, plenty is expected. Yet somehow, the ultimate combination still manages to jar one’s ear a bit. Evan Dando, the sole stable member of the group, projects a voice that very heartily connects with the thin but signature wispy voice of Silversun Pickups leads vocalist, Brian Aubert. The application of just a dusting of reverb to Dando’s vocals emphasizes thoughts of the Pickups’ “atmospheric sounds” (AllMusic.com). The arrangements on Creator inspire plenty of nostalgic throwback emotions and are a nice motivator to dig up other bands from the same and surrounding stylistic wheelhouses but the strangely stubborn feeling of imbalance that persists throughout — from the “rationing” of genre applications in the band’s sound, to the mix level differences between the instrumental dynamics and the vocals — serves as a fragment of evidence as to why this album hasn’t previously jumped out in front when a good indie and alternative mood strikes.
Creator is a charged album with British punk rock sensibilities. Reminiscent of artists like The Clash, Iggy Pop, and The Smiths. The Boston rockers blend charged guitars with moody vocals and impressive drum work, intercut with simple acoustic guitar interludes that can soothe even the most emotionally unstable teenagers. This coming-of-age album is a must have for days you’d love to fast-forward. Stand out tracks include: “Burying Ground,” “Your Home Is Where You’re Happy,” and “Live Without.” “Burying Ground” is the first track on the album and having never listened to The Lemonheads before this, I wasn’t sure what I was getting in to. I can tell you now that it is the track my tiny gothic heart has been waiting 23 years for. Frenetic guitars break through the sounds of heavy rain and church bells and just like that, I’m a Lemonheads fan. This track satisfied all my creepy emotional urges and friends, it was only the beginning. “Your Home Is Where You’re Happy” is the acoustic interlude of this album. It’s simple, charming, and cleanses the palate of the listener between their more emotionally intense tracks. The song echoes “Just as long as you’ve got love in your heart you’ll never be alone.” This song is sweet enough to kill a diabetic and I love everything about it. “Live Without” is just over a minute, but no time is wasted in this emotional rollercoaster. The track builds tension with a blend of dissonant, overdriven guitar melodies and a fast paced kick-snare drumbeat. The tension breaks at a cathartic chorus of “How can you live without losing anything? What do you give the girl who has everything?” This album is a must have for any punk rock or just rock collection. Tiny gothic hearts rejoice.
Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making
I woke up this morning with a weird sense of purpose. Maybe it’s because I fell asleep at 10 PM/crazy early, or maybe it’s because I took a night off from sangria. Maybe, probably, it’s because I got up at 5:30 AM and saw my husband’s sleepy grump face when I kept turning over and I absconded to the living room to let him sleep his way into nicety. Being up in the quiet, with a mewling cat my only company, without work pressing down on my nerves, I stared into my backyard with a cup of coffee and planned the day. I like to make things, and today I decided I would make some little things for Christmas gifts, paint some picture frames from the thrift store, do laundry and feed the cat and wash dishes and help my friend Megan move, and all the while I had The Lemonheads on because I also needed to write this thing for you beautiful people. During all this busywork, I kept worrying because nothing was leaping out at me about this album. It’s punk, it’s pop, it’s not their best, but it’s totally something I had not heard and was enjoying. Jarring at times in flow, the tracks show off a musical wandering and style that would prove to be refined further in the next few years. I love that this album doesn’t sound like 1988, love that when people talk about not liking the ’80s I can pull out this loaded gun. Finally sitting down to write, thinking about the album, I realized probably the best thing about this is its applicability to that kind of work. As I molded clay this morning I bobbed my head to “Clang Bang Clang,” laughed at bit at the cover of “Plaster Caster,” and sang along. I’m in love with “Postcard,” the plaintive jangle of an apology that pulls at all the sentiment my heart can muster. All day this album moved me forward, kept me at work but also made me think about music, about how genre can be limiting and how it works best when things bleed into one another and the best you can say about an album is that it’s good. Well, people, listen to Creator — it’s pretty good.
Under Dando’s later direction, The Lemonheads would hone in on a more realized & accordant version of alt-rock than the casuistic approach heard on Creator.
Evan Dando effectively dodges the “derivative” tag in the interview included as a bonus track on the digital version of of their second album. When the Dutch interviewer asks, “In the reviews I’ve read of the Lemonheads’ records, it’s all said they sound like early Hüsker Dü, early Replacements, isn’t that annoying you?” “Oh, we’re all in favor of it! In fact, we slavishly imitated the sound of those bands because we’re not interested in being original at all, we want to be as derivative as possible.” Except (according to Wikipedia, anyway), Evan Dando is not speaking, but rather it’s Corey “Loog” Brennan, a guitarist who played in the band only after Creator was made. Further down the rabbit hole I traveled while listening, only to discover that while I always think “Dando” when I hear Lemonheads, most of the songs on this early album were by someone named Ben Deily, a name previously unfamiliar to me. Apparently he’s a beloved ad man in the Boston area these days, while also occasionally performing with his band Varsity Drag. The misdirection continues with the cover photo, which depicts not a member of the band, but the guy who helped think of the name. All of these strands, along with the see-sawing between indie rock and hardcore, make this album seem very much a record of apprenticeship — with the band in thrall to Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould, even Morrissey, and perhaps even Dando learning from Deily. Even if the destination of my process toward this review didn’t quite equal the high points of the journey, it was far from a waste of time. And I did discover Deily’s sensitive acoustic number “Postcard,” which is fairly perfect, and worth the price of admission. Maybe the future copywriter was involved in his own apprenticeship while writing vignettes like, “You laugh across the kitchen / At something in a magazine / I frown across the table / So blunt, I’m never seen / Your hair falls in your eyes as you ask / ‘What do you mean?'” I am also grateful to The Lemonheads for proving, for once and for all, that of the two avatars of evil whose songs they covered on the record, Charles Manson is the far better songwriter.
It’s always a weird experience to go back to the beginning of a band’s career and find their sound almost unrecognizable, whether it’s Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, or, in the case of this week’s topic, The Lemonheads. As is often the case, lineup changes are often involved, but I think, in the case of The Lemonheads, it was also the difference between making an Alternative album in 1988 and making one in 1996. I first became familiar with them when my local alternative station played “If I Could Talk, I’d Tell You” quite frequently and so when I then heard their cover of “Mrs. Robinson” and it sounded roughly in the same vein, I was fairly certain I had a good idea of what their sound was. Creator has made me reevaluate what I thought I knew. They were both a lot more punky and also more acoustic-leaning, sort of oscillating between those two extremes, instead of being in the same sonic box as Gin Blossoms and Better Than Ezra. (Both bands have deep discographies that I have a similar level of immersion so I really need to do some digging.) I very much enjoyed this album, even though it was hard not to think of it as an indicator of things to come. “Die Right Now” starts with Evan Dando singing in the style I’m accustomed to. I thought the choice of covers (a Charles Manson song and a Kiss song) was inspired and hilarious, but also expertly executed. This has opened my eyes to all the assumptions I’d made about bands I would hear on the radio in the ’90s and it has given me quite a hefty load of homework, but I’m happy to find new depths in what I thought was a pretty shallow pool.
There were a lot of things pulling at me when listening to Creator. The covers, both good but wildly aberrant. The see-saw feel due to the songwriting flow. The fact that this band would later go on to do the jaunty cover of “Mrs. Robinson.” The fact that Drew picked yet another band that was completely different in the start of the career as opposed to the more popular back-half (see OYR Issue #26). But what really kept swirling around in my mind was how naturally tense this record is. Alt-rock of the time did so many amazing things, but in my opinion (which may be unpopular, who knows?), writing songs with a natural state of tension wasn’t one of them. Pixies, one of my favorites, did to some extent, but a lot of that revolved around their playful dynamics and Black Francis’ singular voice. I don’t want to call them gimmicks in this way, but if you were to re-arrange the songs and put a different voice to them, much, if not all, of their tension would wash away. Here, songs like “Burying Ground” and “Out” feel like they would still retain a sense of tension no matter how they were re-arranged. It’s just there in the chord structure, the melodies, and the words. Everything else, tempo, execution, vocals, it all just adds to it, but at its core, one thing leading into the next just impulsively causes the mind and soul to constrict… or at least it did for me in a wonderful way when listening. There are/were a lot of differences between Ben Deily and Evan Dando as songwriters, but it’s amazing that the two were still able to hone on in this, even when doing songs with a twee foundation (“Sunday“) or abrasive rockers (“Die Right Now“). Who knows where the sound would have gone had Deily stuck around and Dando kept inserting incongruous covers into their repertoire?
Fuck Marry Kill by Daddy Issues
Chosen By Dustin Gates