REVIEW: Evan Dando: Baby I'm Bored
Evan Dando: Baby I'm Bored [Bar/None, 2003]
Three words? i be reflectin'
If you ask me, mid-life crises don't come soon enough. The typical Americana cliché is that 40-year-old males will finally (and defiantly) buy the red convertible that was unaffordable at 19, and then re-listen to worn-out vinyl that regales nothing but nostalgia circa 1982. In reality, a mid-life crisis is more of an existential rumination than anything material. It's a period of time where your head is totally fucked up in the most common sense-bending of ways. I'm nowhere near 40, but I've had my metaphorical mid-life crisis. It was learning via the I-think-too-much brand of suffering and resulted in much anguish, but I wouldn't trade in its lessons for the world.
Evan Dando is now whatever age (note: almost 37) but he's done enough (drugs) to fill three lifetimes over. We've all heard the sordid tales of meth benders that lasted five days, the liver-shattering alcohol binges, the vein-popping heroin tomfoolery and, most infamously, the instance where Dando smoked so much crack that he lost his voice for three weeks. Dando's still alive despite the odds and he's now singing about living after the party's long over, a party some didn't live through.
That last line is melodramatic, but Dando's new music isn't. Baby I'm Bored is the man's rehab record, a collection of tunes that recall his past and his regrets, his future and any wisdom he's managed to acquire along the way. Evan's writing songs that deal with a mid-life crisis that doesn't involve a red car, but which does spark existential reflection. And he's sharing his discoveries with us.
Those expecting the jangle of the Lemonheads will be sorely disappointed. Baby I'm Bored is mellow from start to finish, reminiscent of sad singer-songwriters and alt-country heartbreakers. Only two songs rock, and quite marginally, at that. "It Looks Like You" is Elvis Costello-inflected Johnny Cash, while "Stop My Head" is a fun Cars-inspired venture into new wave, not unlike a much more toned down Fountains Of Wayne or a hypothetically American Sloan.
Aside from these divergences, the record is primarily a therapeutic one. Opener "Repeat" is a sly indie-rock gem, beginning with a sublime passage that resurfaces during the harmony-drenched chorus. The rest of the tunes are sparse, mostly acoustic and quite country in tone. The two most affecting pieces are probably "Hard Drive," a Sadies-esque testament to knowing where you come from, and "Why Do You Do This To Yourself?" The latter asks that question in the context of the excess-fuelled nights and days and mornings and evenings outlined above, only to come to the conclusion that the endless cycle of ridiculously wrong parties and stupidly long recovery is a cycle that is inevitable. Dando debates with himself, knowing he needs help but validating his behaviour by singing "[I] ain't hurtin' anyone else."
In the end, Baby I'm Bored is an album that is listenable and even semi-thought provoking, but by no means necessary. Aside from some solid highlights, the songwriting meanders into territory that has either been mined more effectively before, or is derivative of artists who simply do it more credibly. As I write that last statement however, I am once again impressed by "All My Life" and one line in particular: "All my life, I thought I needed all the things I didn't need at all." Maybe this record is actually necessary after all; it'll help me through my eventual second mid-life crisis.