The Lemonheads: Reissues - Hate Your Friends, Creator, Lick (Fire Records)

US alt. rock icons early independent albums re-issued

Released Oct 8th, 2013 via Fire / By Richard Lewis
The Lemonheads: Reissues - Hate Your Friends, Creator, Lick (Fire Records) Long before the gold discs, the tabloid-worthy romance with Winona Ryder, the ‘alterna-hunk’ plaudits from Spin and being lauded as one of the best songwriters of his generation, Evan Dando was the co-pilot of a Boston punk band signed to Taang! Records.

The name of course is familiar. The Lemonheads, the group who Dando was the sole custodian of for the past twenty plus years since the departure of his fellow founder members at the end of the 1980s began life as a ramshackle teenage punk trio.

Following their initial 1992 appearance on CD, these new dust-offs of the band’s first three albums come augmented with radio sessions, interviews and demo versions, effectively providing for those who only knew of them in their mainstream incarnation, The Lemonheads: A Prehistory.

Originally consisting of Evan Dando, vox/guitar/drums, Ben Deily vox/guitar/drums and bassist Jesse Peretz, the trio cut three albums and an EP for local indie label Taang! between 1986 and 1989.

The membership fluctuating around the original troika, Deily departed under a cloud in 1989, while Peretz stayed on a year longer and became the band’s video director, while line-ups since then skilled as they have been, largely seemed to consist of Evan and whoever he found crashed out on his couch that morning.

The present reissues are timely as according to a tweet earlier this year from Ryan Adams, Reilly and Dando are said to be working together for the first time in two decades on new material, with Adams in the producer’s chair.

The group’s memorably titled debut Hate Your Friends (1987), their first full-length following debut release, Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners EP, has songwriting duties equally divided between Dando and Deily, adhering to the ‘If you wrote it, you get to sing it’ model.

Velocity was understandably important to a fledging punk act, evident in the bracing rush of opener ‘Don’t Wanna’, the supercharged New York Dolls’ boogie of ‘Fed Up’ and the English punk rock-aping ‘So I Fucked Up’.

While many of Dando’s songs across the three albums are understandably rough around the edges, the embryonic missives serve notice of his burgeoning talent.

The New Wave-y chug of ‘Don’t Tell Yourself (It’s OK)’ is a standout on the present LP, slowing the tempo for a succession of bar-chord arpeggios that allow his voice room to manoeuvre.

Deily’s contributions to the band’s catalogue meanwhile are perfectly serviceable 1980s alt. rock, but frequently come across as a poor man’s Hüsker Dü, speedily rattling past without leaving much lasting impression.

That said, the Deily penned ‘Second Chance’ centred around a ragged, anthemic chorus, that evokes The Replacements passionate blue-collar rock, sounds suspiciously like one of the highlights of the entire set.

Elsewhere noisy but slightly ineffectual Evan-sung dust-ups ‘Sneakyville’ and ‘Belt’ keep the tempos rapidly ticking over, while the Carry On Punk Rock cover of ‘Amazing Grace’ is so wretched even Blink-182 would baulk at it.

While Hate Your Friends had been split equally between Dando and Deily, Creator (1988) saw the pendulum decisively swing in the latter’s favour, with only three Dando tracks present on the disc.

Opening with ‘Burying Ground’ which mischievously filches the rain-and-doomy-church bells opening of Black Sabbath’s debut LP, the recruitment of a full-time drummer, John Strohm ensures the results land nearer the target than on the previous outing.

The acoustic powered ‘Sunday’ displays the band’s growing interest away from punk, while sequenced back to back ‘Clang Bang Clang’, (later re-recorded as ‘Left for Dead’) and ‘Out’ truly sound like the earliest stirrings of the sound the Lemonheads would come to be associated with.

Two misshapen covers meanwhile don’t have the off-kilter brilliance of the band’s later choices, in the form of groupie homage ‘Plaster Caster’ by the perma- dreadful Kiss and Charles Manson’s unsettling ‘Your Home Is Where You're Happy’.

The band’s love of Sabbath resurfaces meanwhile in the bonus tracks with a radio session cover of the Brummie metallurgists’ classic ‘N.I.B.’

Reforming to undertake a European after ostensibly splitting, Lick (1989) is a grab bag of retooled and previously released tracks along with an EPs worth of new material.

Effectively clearing the decks before the band made the leap to a major label, Lick is almost entirely Dando’s gig, boasting a broader sonic scope and sharper production, immediately apparent from excellent country tinged opening salvo ‘Mallo Cup’.

The token unusual covers are in abundance with ‘I Am a Rabbit’ by New Zealand punks Proud Scum, ‘Strange’, by US County singer Mel Tillis and a power-charged re-imagining of Suzanne Vega’s 1987 mega-hit ‘Luka’, which became the band’s first single.

Elsewhere novelty cut ‘Cazzo di Ferro’ sung in pidgen-Italian and overlaid with twiddlesome metal guitar has additional lyrical input from guitarist T. Corey Brennan (now Professor of Classics at Rutgers University, NJ.)

The original vinyl LP and the first phase of the band’s career concludes with possibly Deily’s finest moment, ‘Ever’, hinging on the poignant lyric ‘This doesn’t ever have to end’, which by design or not turned out to be the swan song of the Lemonheads’ first incarnation.

Moving to Atlantic Records in 1990 the reconfigured group recorded Lovey at college rock wellspring Fort Apache Studios and went on to release one of the decade’s best albums, the sublime It’s A Shame About Ray in 1992 with the near-perfect Come On Feel The Lemonheads (1993) following in quick succession.

Just as the band were on the cusp of being on served up with the cornflakes internationally however, Dando took up ill-advised rock star pursuits crack cocaine and hanging round with Courtney Love, gossip filling the void where album releases should have been.

Harvard graduate Deily meanwhile transformed into a Boston-bound version of Don Draper, running his own advertising agency alongside fronting indie act Varsity Drag.

Unfinished business between the two founder members however led to the pair performing early ‘Heads tracks at SXSW in 2009 and a general mending of fences.

Their recent studio sessions have also tantalisingly featured ‘Ray era bassist Juliana Hatfield, the presence of the two former sparring partners hopefully able to reignite the Lemonheads fitful progress and Dando’s wayward muse once more.