This reissue of The Lemonheads’ 1990 major label debut marks the 30th anniversary of the album before the first of the two albums that everyone knows.
The press release notes that the emergence of ‘Lovey’ was ‘caught up in Grunge mania and following three ramshackle punk albums that only hinted at what was to come’. And this time out it’s paired with a contemporaneous live album in the form of ‘Live at the Wireless’, which was recorded on the attendant tour of Australia.
The Lemonheads were never a band that grabbed me at the time, and apart from a general awareness of the hits which failed to spark any interest, and so never inspired me to delve deeper into the albums or the back catalogue. Part of the issue was that the people who liked them seemed to be the music casuals, the kind of people who like whatever’s on the radio rather than having any real preferences or tastes of their own. But then, I suspect those ‘fans’ never delved any further back than ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’, and admittedly, nor had I before now.
The sound of ‘Lovey’ isn’t exactly that of grunge mania, but the proto-grunge of early Dinosaur Jr, an album full of amped-up Americana and ear-bleeding country, wistful melancholia and emotional fragility powered by some big, driving guitars.
‘Half the Time’ hints at what’s to come with songs like ‘Into Your Arms’, while also bearing similarities to ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ era Dinosaur Jr, and this is largely the tone of the album as a whole, with some whopping great solos and interweaving guitar breaks that stand comparison with J Mascis’ work. Dando comes across as an anguished troubadour, uncertain, and it’s a far more appealing character than the pin-up alt-rock god he would subsequently become, and ‘Lovey’ is actually a decent album.
The live album may be one for the fans, but then that’s true of any live album and / or expanded anniversary edition: let’s face it, no-one who had a passing appreciation of their cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’ is going to be forking out for a double album reissue of one of their earlier albums. But as live albums go, it’s a good one, and, like ‘Lovey’ throws light on the band’s truly alternative origins. They play well, and loud, and with energy, and much of the appeal is that this isn’t the sound of some arena band playing to thousands of adoring fans.
As expanded editions go, this remains faithful to the original release, which is better than a bloated box full of demos and outtakes even the hardiest of fans will only play once or twice having forked out a fortune for, and may – just may – prompt a reassessment of the band’s early years. And yeah, I’ll say it: on the evidence here, I prefer their earlier stuff.