Thursday, January 6, 2011

January 6: The Lemonheads, "Confetti"

Artist: The Lemonheads
Song: "Confetti"
Album: It's A Shame About Ray
Year: 1992

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It seems that with every passing year, the term "pop music" seems to garner a more and more negative implication.  Perhaps this is due to the overly-artificial sound and image that it has taken over the past decade, but even in the not too far removed history, the term "pop music" had quite a different face.  Case in point: as the musical quagmire that was the early 1990's began to take shape, some of the most stunning and unforgettable pop-style songs were emerging.  While many point to the rise of "gangsta rap" and "grunge," there was a sound developing at the same time which can be traced back to the pioneering sounds of bands like Hüsker Dü and R.E.M.  Among these groups that were perhaps unintentionally bridging these sounds to that of pop music was one that stood far apart from the rest, and it is their unmistakable sound that makes The Lemonheads the alternative icons that they remain to this day.  While almost every album the band made is a stunning work in its own right, they found themselves in the rare territory of "musical perfection" with their monumental 1992 record, It's A Shame About Ray.  Without an off moment anywhere across the compact, yet musically brilliant half-hour of songs, there is perhaps no better definition of the beautiful, yet catchy sound that is The Lemonheads than what one finds in their 1992 song, "Confetti."

From the moment that "Confetti" begins, a number of different contrasts are quite clear, as at its core, the song has almost no relation to the popular music of the time, yet there is no question that it is far more catchy that any of those same songs.  The light, yet high energy sound that The Lemonheads deploy here is without question the most unforgettable of the entire album, and yet it highlights their ability to deploy such a sound with a wonderfully simplistic arrangement.  "Confetti" is built around the perfectly toned acoustic guitar of the bands' founder, Evan Dando, and when an electric guitar is dubbed over later in the song, it both fits perfectly, as well as creates a clear connection to the bands musical roots.  Particularly in the final part of the song, the powerful, slightly distorted solo shows why The Lemonheads can be seen in the same category as the likes of Dinosaur Jr, and it also makes their love for simple, three-chord punk quite obvious.  While the band went through a number of lineup changes over the years, drummer David Ryan fits in perfectly here, and it is the small fills that he lends to the song that keep the energy high.  Perhaps the most interesting note on this lineup of The Lemonheads is the fact that the bass throughout the album is played by none other than Juliana Hatfield, and her contributions here offer the ideal finish to a fantastic song and record.  Though "Confetti" can be seen as a rather distant sound from their earlier, heavier sounds, through the same sound, one can hear the song as the culmination of Dando's work as a composer, and it remains one of the bands finest songs.

Along with being a solid guitarist and having one of the most unique takes on musical hooks in history, there is little argument that Evan Dando possesses one of the most simple, yet purely beautiful voices in all of music history.  In terms of both his vocal range, as well as the mood he conveys through his singing, Dando knew very few (if any) peers, and even in the time that has passed since the release of "Confetti," there are not many performances that come close.  It is the honesty and lack of want or need for any studio sheen that makes Dando's voice so captivating, and the straightforward manner with which he sings gives him an ability to appeal to a wider range of music fans, as this tone can be related to far easier than nearly any other singer of the era.  The way in which Dando puts forth his amazing talent, whilst keeping a consistent feeling of disconnect or almost listlessness is also what makes his sound so fantastic, and it also provides a perfect mirror for the general mood of the population during that time period.  Taking this a step further, one can easily make the case that it is songs like "Confetti" that prove that Dando knew no peers when it came to writing love songs that had an odd sense of almost lethargic concern, and yet the beauty of the words that he sings are easily on par with the most sincere love songs ever written.  Throwing as many juxtapositions in his singing as one finds in the music, Evan Dando completes the perfect musical picture, and it is the reason "Confetti" is such an important part of music history.

When one looks at the musical landscape of 1992, "Confetti" is significant in the fact that while it fits in perfectly with the sound of that time, it can also be seen as an outlier.  With the "grunge" sound having already taken over the airwaves, it was bands like The Lemonheads that truly defined the idea of "alternative" music, as it had a starkly different sound, yet presented a pop appeal that was impossible to ignore.  It is this contrast of musical ideas that helped both the band and the album to gain an extremely devoted fanbase, and much the reason It's A Shame About Ray remains one of the most treasured albums of the decade to those that know its unparalleled beauty and musicianship.  While the band can be seen as having very similar musical roots to the sounds that dominated the early 1990's, it is their unique approach that sets them far apart from their would-be peers.  The way in which the trio come off as almost detached from the music is a rare trait found anywhere in music history, and the odd sense of melancholy that comes across on many of the songs makes them all the more unique.  In many ways, it is these characteristics, along with the superb musical talents shown that catapulted Evan Dando to his almost cult-like status, and even almost twenty years later, all of It's A Shame About Ray can still easily hold its own with any other music being released.  Without question one of the most impressive and essential albums of the 1990's, there is simply no other song that presents pop music in quite the same way as one finds in The Lemonheads magnificent 1992 song, "Confetti."

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