Evan Dando: Baby I'm Bored
Jun 28, 2003
BABY I'M BORED, Evan Dando (Modular)
It only takes a passing glance at the career of Evan Dando to see that the guy is a textbook study of what his compatriots call a goof-off. As leader of the Lemonheads, the Boston-born Dando had it all; great voice, strong songs, Hollywood good looks. When indie-rock was peaking in the Nirvana-90s, this grunge glamour boy was offered stardom on a stick.
He blew it. One memorable interview with a British music magazine was conducted entirely in sign language and scrawled notes. Dando had lost his voice, a side-effect of smoking crack, he explained with no apparent remorse. At a British festival around the same time, he appeared 10 hours late; the pretty floral frock that he modeled for the occasion did little to appease the boos and projectiles directed at the stage.
Baby I’m Bored is his first release in seven years, unless you count a stopgap EP of covers and live cuts, and at just 38 minutes it hardly looks as if the slacker has improved his work habits. The title would seem to confirm that the old attitude is intact, while a glance at the credits shows that he has out-sourced much of the songwriting while employing a variety of producers – not good signs.
Not that there are too many options when it comes to making music of this kind; from the opening bars, it is evident that Dando hasn’t strayed far from the melodic rock – “bubblegrunge” as some wit dubbed it – that defined the Lemonheads in their prime. Of the several studio boffins who presided over these dozen tracks, the one who has left the strongest imprint is Jon Brion (instrument-juggling sideman to Aimee Mann) whose keyboards tinkle and hum amid the big strummed guitars.
And Dando’s voice is showing no signs of drug decay. The tunes roll out of him like easy conversation. He has all the warmth and immediacy of a good country singer, without there being anything identifiably country in his tone or phrasing. It’s simply a lovely voice.
As ever, most of the songs deal with romance gone wrong, and usually the singer is in some way to blame. Best of these is “My Idea” from Dando’s Aussie chum Tom Morgan, writer of the Lemon-heads’ classic “It’s a Shame About Ray”. “Well I see that we’re coming to the end of the affair/There’s one final favour I’ll ask of you my dear/Can we pretend that it was you on the receiving end/and tell our friends that it was my idea?” Dando was born to sing lines as unheroic as these.
One has to dig into the disc to find any reflection on Dando’s missing years, and yet it’s unmistakable in “Why Do You Do This to Yourself?”, a soliloquy you could imagine coming from George Jones. The song is an admission that self-abuse can hurt others, and Dando sings it without self-pity, which – along with its under-two-minute playing time – is what makes this performance so affecting where it might have been insufferable. And the rueful tone is amplified in “All My Life”, the following track, written by Ben Lee (another Aussie), but surely with Dando in mind. It is entirely in character that, even in such a rare moment of contrition, he’s just as happy to let someone else write his confession.
On the surface, Baby I’m Bored is not an especially great or significant album. Dando doesn’t seem to have expended more than his usual offhand effort. Evidence is that, odd glimmers of self-realisation aside, he’s still a goof-off. And yet, there are more moments of musical and emotional resonance in this assortment of throwaways than in so many earnestly fashioned rock opuses. It’s tempting to imagine what Dando could do if he tried. Then again, perhaps he’s so great simply because he doesn’t.