CD Review of It’s a Shame about Ray (Collector’s Edition) by Lemonheads
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Label
Rhino
Lemonheads:
It’s a Shame about Ray (Collector’s Edition)

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

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W
ell, here we are yet again with another classic album that’s been reissued with a ton of extra stuff thrown on and expanded into a CD/DVD affair. Look, kids, I’m so cool that I have a copy of this album that ends with “Frank Mills” and doesn’t have “Mrs. Robinson” tagged onto the end of it. The same one where “My Drug Buddy” is called just that on the track list, instead of “Buddy” when Atlantic Records feared that they’d lose a bunch of sales after “Mrs. Robinson” was tacked onto the end of the album, causing it to be a big hit and making Evan Dando the poster boy for the Alternative Generation, thereby shortening the name. Gimme a break. Dando was one of the biggest drug abusers of his time – and openly at that. His abuse pretty much caused the giant downfall of the Lemonheads after this album.

But hey, what we do have here is the band’s best work. By this point, the group was Dando singing and doing his guitar thing, Juliana Hatfield on bass and backing vocals, and uhhh…ah yes, Mr. David Ryan on drums. I knew there was someone else in there! Basically, if you haven’t heard this album before, now’s the chance to do so. You get a bunch of great, short and sweet pop songs with the likes of the title track, the aforementioned “My Drug Buddy,” “Confetti,” “Rudderless,” and “Rockin’ Stroll” to name but a few. Dumped right in the middle of all that more popular Seattle grunge hoo-ha and making Kurt Cobain wish he could be a little more sensitive and less of an angst-humping smack user. Of course, around this same time, Evan Dando would soon be appearing in all sorts of magazines and proclaiming his love for PCP, so there ya go.

Lemonheads

But before all that nonsense, there was this album that was leaps and bounds better than anything the “band” (it had gone through a few drastic changes by the time this album was recorded) recorded prior. The previous release Lovey had a nifty cover of Gram Parson’s “Brass Buttons” and not a whole lot else. Everything else before that album found the Lemonheads trying to strike a balance between sweet pop and more punk-flavored DIY songs. It’s a Shame about Ray was a perfect reset. Dando had gone off to Australia to clear his head, write some new tunes, and came back with his strongest work ever.

Anyway, the CD portion of this set is the original album (yes, with “Mrs. Robinson” still tacked on), the b-side “Shaky Ground” and a clutch of demos. I was personally hoping the original version of “Dawn Can’t Decide,” which also showed up as a b-side and was subsequently re-recorded in a faster version for Come on Feel the Lemonheads, would be here, but no dice. Instead, we get some lo-fi, flanged-out demos for some of the album tracks (like “My Drug Buddy”) that aren’t very interesting at all, not to mention the piss-poor sound quality of the tracks. As far as the original album’s sound goes, it doesn’t seem too different from what was already available. Not that that matters; the album always sounded really good to begin with, so any remastering done here didn’t bring out much more than was already there.

As for the DVD portion of the package, what you get here is the classic “Two Weeks in Australia” video, previously only available on VHS format since its original release (and yes, I have the VHS version of it as well to increase my hipness quotient even more). The video is a collection of music videos (“Mrs. Robinson,” “Confetti,” “Rockin’ Stroll” to name a few) mixed with road trip footage, live performances, and general goofing about. If you’ve been a long-time fan, then this DVD will pretty much justify the purchase of the rest of the package.

So this reissue is not flawless, but then again, which reissues aren’t these days? Like I said, some other b-sides of the day would have been a cool addition, rather than the shoddy demos that were chosen instead. Evan Dando in his bedroom singing into a cheap recorder just doesn’t make for very entertaining times. But the rest of the stuff here is classic, through and through. Jesus, I can’t believe it’s been 16 years since this album came out. Seems like only yesterday, kids. It’s a deserved classic of its time.

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