Band’s 1992 album broke through that era’s wall of grunge

by Kevin C. Johnson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

2 February 2012


ST. LOUIS — The Lemonheads knew it had what would become a modern-day classic on its hands while it was recording “It’s a Shame About Ray,” its album released in 1992.

The breakthrough album for the band included the big hit “Mrs. Robinson,” a cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic.

“It was our time,” lead singer Evan Dando says of the album’s out-of-the-box success. “If you hang around in show business long enough, you got a shot at making a dent, and this was our shot. We made a unique record that was different from the (grunge) stuff that was happening around then.

“All of our friends got famous. Bands who were playing for 300 people were all of a sudden playing to 3,000. Scrutiny came with it, and it wasn’t just for fun anymore. It was for real. None of us thought we’d get to a place where that was happening, but it was fun getting your shot.”

Of course, Dando and his band’s shot came with music clearly removed from those more aggressive grunge sounds.

The Lemonheads’ catchy pop sounds exploded on “It’s a Shame About Ray,” the band’s fifth album and the one that secured it a place on the pop map.

The album was originally released without its signature single, “Mrs. Robinson.” But as a tie-in to the 25th anniversary release of the movie “The Graduate,” the band was asked to record a new version of “Mrs. Robinson.” The cover was included on a re-release of “It’s a Shame About Ray.”

‘“Mrs. Robinson’ was tacked on because the record wasn’t going as planned,” Dando says. “We did it in two hours, just bashed it out. We thought nothing of it. I only did it because I love the movie so much. I’m not wild about the song. We didn’t even bother with the harmony. It’s not really a relevant cover. There are other songs on the album I prefer.

“We don’t play it live, and we’ve always gotten away with not playing it live. We’ve only done it 10 times live ever.”

The rest of the album is based on songs Dando and co-writers came up with while visiting Australia.

“It’s just stories from there,” Dando says. “It was a whole new thing there.”

Dando says he would change some things if he could. When he listens to “Ray,” he hears too much delay in the vocals, and he says the drums are a little off.

“Then again, it’s our own thing, and it has a unique sound so I can’t really complain,” he says. “But you can always do better.”

The Lemonheads is performing “It’s a Shame About Ray,” re-released in 2008 in a special collectors edition with a DVD and demos, in its entirety on tour.

“You need an angle because there’s so much out there, and everybody is on the road,” he says. “People like to know what they’re getting.”

They band will perform other songs as well, including Dando solo songs. There should be plenty of time: “It’s a Shame About Ray” runs only about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, the idea of new Lemonheads material remains just a thought for now.

“It’s real sketchy,” Dando says. “Nothing’s done yet. I have maybe a teeny bit of writer’s block. I hope to get it done soon. It’ll happen. But you can’t force it.”

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