The Lemonheads are more of a collective entity than a band. Born from what could probably be labelled the bougiest college punk band, including a Harvard alumni and sons of editors-in-chiefs, The Lemonheads have had such a wealth of band members (or such a lack of stability) that not even the colourful graph that emblazons their wikipedia page, tracking the band’s history, can truly capture the countless ebbs and flows.
There was, however, one constant in The Lemonheads discography and that was Evan Dando. He was the lucky escapee of the ’90s; with the pretty looks of Jim Morrison and the habits of Kurt Cobain, Dando teetered on the edge of punk brutalism – anyone who was anyone was a tortured nihilist – and a rock ‘n roll Apollo (he was named in People’s “50 Most Beautiful People”), yet he never was consumed and spit out by the Generation X Punk machine that destroyed so many others – at least, not completely. Dando was better suited to a Daisy Jones and the Six-esque fiction story than the real world of punk, but in The Lemonheads he attempted to live it.
The Lemonheads were similar to Dando in that they were hard to define. They didn’t quite have the brash opulence that secured Nirvana their classic hits, but they occupied an expansive space in the alt-rock community – even if that space was sometimes erring too far on the pop side for critics’ liking – and therefore could not be ignored. It was on this precipice that Lovey, the Lemonheads’ first album on major label Atlantic Records, was born, following three purposefully derelict albums and, in hindsight, the precursor to what would be their most successful album: It’s A Shame About Ray.
Why, then, would The Lemonheads choose to re-release this album, rather than what is largely considered the high point of their career? For all intents and purposes, Lovey wasn’t a particular commercial success, despite being hot on the heels of their popular 1989 album Lick, but what it did include was, for better or worse, Dando’s complete influence. As a pseudo-collective that is hard to grasp, a 30th Anniversary reissue would help solidify not only The Lemonheads’ contextual presence, but Dando’s too, as well as giving fans exclusive bonus content including unseen photos and a rare, live recording of Triple J Live at the Wireless, taken from the Lemonheads’ 1991 tour of Australia. The inclusion of these remixed and remastered eight tracks show The Lemonheads at their most raw, with a moving tribute to Big Star in cover Nighttime, and poignantly off-kilter tracks like fan favourite Stove. Noticeable about the remastered version of these legendary live events is the vitality; Dando lets his sensitive side run free on Lovey, which, at times, works well (see the hypnotically moving cover of Gram Parsons’ Brass Buttons) but with these 1991 era tracks you can almost feel the crackling energy, right on the cusp of creating Ray, so much so that it’s almost a waste that they were so tenderly remastered – the cheers of crowds would have only added to the effervescent effect.
Lovey is the last Lemonheads record to feature founding bassist-turned-filmmaker Jesse Peretz, and the last record The Lemonheads produced before they hit it big. In every way possible Lovey is the precursor to greatness, but it’s also the end of an era. Because of this creative crossroads, it is overlooked, but this reissue does make you stand up and pay attention. The Lemonheads balance crunchy rock seen in ‘Lil Seed, brusquely arguing Reagan’s drug laws, with softer ballads in Ride With Me, whilst Stove is just as quietly domineering, lyrically balancing the quotidian and the mundane. Lovey is certainly not the confident, accessible grunge of Ray, but it’s altogether more interesting for its less instant candy sweet appeal. The lack of Different Drum, however, still stings; not included on the original Lovey, and often considered too much of a galavant into pop, the cover of Michael would have settled the friction between some of the recorded tracks of Lovey and the wilder, remastered Triple J Live versions.
Produced by Paul Q Kolderie, known for Radiohead and Pixies, Lovey was enigmatically ferocious, refusing to be defined by rules of genre or likability, with guitar that could be as sublimely deft as it could be hawkish. In short: a creatively chaotic gamble. It seems this reissue attempts to own that freedom and produces an expansive version of Lovey that shows the calm before The Lemonheads storm; it is a freewheeling album that shows Dando’s signature voice, spiky songwriting and simplistic hooks. Whilst Dando arguably works best on paper as a story, and The Lemonheads’ obvious story is It’s A Shame About Ray, both Dando and The Lemonheads have never seemed more like real, tangible rock stars than on this reissue.
With a bound book containing expanded liner notes, released via Fire Records as a two-CD set with the original album as well as the live recordings of Triple J Live at the Wireless, this is a chance to revisit one of alt-rock’s most endearing bands all over again.
The Lemonheads’ Lovey (30th Anniversary Edition) as a deluxe CD bookback is out on 23 October 2020 and is available to order here. The deluxe 2xLP is released on 24 October for Record Store Day.