2011 HAS given us the opportunity to look back on some of the albums released in 1991 and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the best of that year.
Indeed those 12 months gave us a shedload of seminal albums - Loveless, Screamadelica, Trompe Le Monde, Out Of Time, Blue Lines, Bandwagonesque, (to name but a few ) and above all Nevermind - so much so that ‘91 deserves to be ranked alongside 1967, 1969, 1977, and 1980 as being among the select stand-out, turning point years, for rock and popular music.
As a result 1992 was always going to find it a tough act to live up to but as the albums ‘92 turn 20 in the New Year, it is good to realise that yes, there were some important pieces of work put out for public consumption and enjoyment back then;
REM’s Automatic For The People; Dr Dre’s The Chronic, Morrissey’s Your Arsenal, Panthera’s Vulgar Display Of Power, and the debuts from Pavement (Slanted and Enchanted ) and PJ Harvey (Dry ). Another that stand’s easily as the one of the best from that year was the fifth album by a Boston trio called The Lemonheads - It’s A Shame About Ray.
At the time the mainstream swooned over lead singer and songwriter Evan Dando’s handsome features and his band’s chirpy cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’, but It’s A Shame About Ray was a dark beast with far more going on than appeared on the surface.
Here were tales of drug dependence (‘My Drug Buddy’ ), ecstasy trips disguised as love songs (‘Alison’s Starting To Happen’ ), and the frustration of unrequited love (‘Bit Part’ ). Darker still was the title track which hinted at a tragedy that befell someone called Ray, but the scant details hinted that this was an incident nobody felt able to talk about openly (the back cover image of an abandoned car in an eerie forest only added to the mystery ). It was superb storytelling combining atmosphere, menace, and a young man’s inarticulateness.
Yet amid the squalor and heartbreak there were bright moments, such as the wonderful opening track, ‘Rockin’ Stroll’, told from the perspective of a toddler in a pram, who marvels at how “people’s knees, and trunks of trees, smile at me”.
It’s A Shame About Ray was Dando’s songwriting at its best - short, sharp, well crafted alternative pop-rock songs, packing in loads lyrically with only minimal word use, thus leaving plenty of room for interpretation.
Musically there were irresistible pop hooks, catchy melodies, and big choruses; tasty pedal steel guitar from Steely Dan’s Jeff ‘The Skunk’ Baxter; and appealing backing vocals from bassit Julianna Hatfield. Over its 12 songs (13 if you count the quick re-release which included ‘Mrs Robinson’ ) barely got to half-an-hour and yet there was never a feeling of being short-changed. It delivered on all counts.
Galway will be able to enjoy hearing this album performed live in its entirety (alongside other Lemonheads favourites ) when Evan Dando and the band play the Róisín Dubh on April 16 at 9pm. Tickets are on sale now and may sell out fast so don’t delay.
Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and www.roisindubh.net