This week, we here at the Central Target Research Lab are conducting an experiment. Given the same new album at the same time, will two people with (frighteningly) similar taste reach the same conclusion? Brent Shelley, our associate over at the wonderful Dogdoguwar has agreed to take part in this experiment, paving the way for next week's marathon joint live-review session! So, below is the Central Target review of the Lemonheads' new covers album, Varshons.
Let's get this out of the way: the Lemonheads' new, all-covers album sounds exactly like the Lemonheads.
They've had 3 distinct choices in cover material their whole career - the punky/poppy classics, the weepy country-pop type, and the "really?" fringe artist. "Mrs. Robinson" fits the first, the Empire Records-featured version of Big Star's "The Ballad Of El Goodo" is the second, and there was that unfortunate Charlie Manson cover on 1988's Creator. The Wire and Linda Perry covers here fit the first group, longtime Dando idol Gram Parsons gets the nod to fill the country quota, and Manson here is replaced by the cuddly-as-a-kitten G.G. Allin. However, there are a few little surprises.
It's far more acoustic than expected, for one thing. I was expecting Evan Dando to "Lemonize" these into fingerpoppin' brisk power-pop, which is the rarity here - seems ol' Evan would rather reach for the acoustic these days. You'd also NEVER know that this album was produced by the Butthole Surfers' ringmaster himself, Gibby Haynes. Dando's longtime buddy kept his weirdness off of this album, and honestly, it's the better for it.
However, nothing here is particularly revelatory. It all sounds good, and it's all well-perfomed, chosen, and produced. It feels like a collection that a friend of yours with a serious Lemonheads infatuation would hand you, saying, "Hey, here's a disc of all the covers they've done in the past 5 years." It all does sound "of a piece" (as opposed to the erratic production qualities a comp might have), but it never escapes the fact that it's a covers album. While it would be easy for a Cramps fan to pick "Green Fuz" as the highlight, it's the G.G. Allin cover here that's most interesting, as Dando's deep vocals push it to "Nick Cave Goes Pop-Country" territory. Frightening.
Three years since the last Lemonheads album leaves one wanting to hear more Dando & Co., and while it takes a lot of effort to make power pop that sounds effortless, and it's unfair to judge this by what it isn't, it's hard to shake the feeling of wanting to hear these guys really come into their own, rather than someone else's.