WHEN IT came to delivering classic albums, 1992 was not a bad year. Those 12 months saw the release of REM’s Automatic For The People; Dr Dre’s The Chronic, Morrissey’s Your Arsenal, and debuts from Pavement (Slanted and Enchanted ) and PJ Harvey (Dry ).
Another album that stands as the one of the best from that year was 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 despite 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 bassist Julianna Hatfield. Over its 12 songs (13 if you count the quick re-release which included ‘Mrs Robinson’ ) it 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 Monday April 16 at 9pm.
Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and www.roisindubh.net