Of all the things that have been unkind to Evan Dando – drugs, the press, short hair – time has been the unkindest of all. The alt-rock poster-boy of the early-’90s became a Nick Heyward for the DM generation – blondly, blandly cute, sweetly endearing and with an artistic reputation blown out like birthday candles. Evan was always better at breaking hearts than new ground and it makes perfect sense that The Lemonheads’ biggest hit was a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs Robinson’, much adored by weekend hippies.
While Nirvana and Suede were soundtracking lives, Dando’s ambition stretched to the few seconds of melancholy, the joyful blip.’The Best Of The Lemonheads’ – mainly covering the time from 1992’s ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ to their last album ‘Car Button Cloth’ – highlights both Dando’s gifts and his insurmountably irritating flaws. Playing on his wide-eyed charms with deceptive determination, he looked like the kind of boy who could get it together to write songs but would probably find pedestrian crossings bewildering. It was an image that gave sometimes ordinary songs a veneer of otherworldliness and, more importantly, that moment-capturing magic.?
Hearing all of their singles together, though, makes you realise how little they actually had to reflect. By ‘Come On Feel The Lemonheads’, transfixed teenagers were realising that if they just wanted something cute, they’d be better off getting a hamster (no danger of that getting out a guitar for a campfire singalong) and vulnerable mutated into punchable. When you know Dando’s capable of a line as sharp as, “Enough about us/Let’s talk about me” from the sunbursting ‘It’s About Time’, the dreary whimsy of ‘Being Around’ (“If I were a dance floor would you shake your thing?”) or the watery politics of ‘Big Gay Heart’ become all the more grating.
The closing acoustic tracks – ‘Down About It’, ‘Into Your Arms’ – wear spiritual beards and ponchos, the loose end of an unravelling plot. As another blonde bombshell once sang, “Men grow cold as girls grow old/And we all lose our charms in the end”. Evan would understand. Yet somewhere in this collection, the charm is preserved. Blink and you’d miss it, but that’s what makes it precious.