The Mighty Lemon Drops
Happy Head / Out of Hand
1986 / 1987 / 20
he Web has transformed us all into pop music pundits. Jostling one another and with shuffling feet, we gather in bleating flocks, frequenting message boards, mp3 blogs, and online magazines (hello!). We’re indie evangelists, foisting and flattering countless acts to anyone with an Internet connection. In short: Wherever there’s an artist looking to string together a few notes in melody, there’s three of us looking to string together a few sentences in criticism.
“There are only so many notes,” I once heard a struggling songwriter lament. Well, there are only so many words, too, and with the sheer amount of music-related commentary inundating cyberspace, it’s become increasingly difficult to wade through the chest-deep pleonasm and formulate original ideas. I mean really, what is there to write about Loveless that hasn’t already been written? (I recently unearthed a Loveless review that featured the term “post-coital”; God help us.)
Besides making the creative process more arduous, this phenomenon fosters laziness, as critics dig out their activity books and play the same hackneyed games of connect-the-dots. “Draw a line from Artist A to Artist B, and you arrive at Artist C’s aesthetic.” Erase the lines, pencil them in again, repeat.
For The Mighty Lemon Drops—known to many for the band’s inclusion on NME’s much-loathed/much-loved C86 compilation—such laziness leads to eternal comparisons to Echo & The Bunnymen. Pick an online review at random and it’s a certainty the Echo namedrop comes somewhere in the first three graphs. Didn’t see one? Go back and read that story again—trust us, it’s there.
Give Wounded Bird’s reissue of 1986’s Happy Head and the ensuing EP, Out of Hand, a cursory listen and one will discover the comparison is apt: Both groups dipped their beaks in neo-psychedelia, updating ‘60s sounds with their own layered, guitar landscapes. However, for Echo & The Bunnymen, a song’s mood was invariably changing—thanks to the flighty picking of Will Sergeant and Ian McCulloch’s affecting vocal work. The Mighty Lemon Drops, meanwhile, glutted themselves on tranquility, quickly (and regretfully) retreating when the music became too cocksure or too tender. Only later, on their third release, World Without End, did the Wolverhampton quartet finally swap hardboiled composure for precious candor, resulting in the most exhilarating work in their catalog.
By that point in their career, one could fathom why The Mighty Lemon Drops were lumped in with the “fey city rollers” of the C86 scene (and had they kept their original moniker, The Sherbert Monsters, they might have been bigger). Listen to Happy Head / Out of Hand, however, and you’re left scratching your noggin; there’s nothing to make a schoolboy blush in “Behind Your Back” and “Going Under,” slasher tracks featuring David Newton’s razor-sharp riffing. And there’s nothing twee as fuck about “Happy Head” and “Out Of Hand,” both songs brimming with thick, guitar swagger, and evoking contemporaries such as The Close Lobsters, The Flatmates, and Recurrence-era Railway Children.
The group does get adventurous—“Count Me Out” features a nifty guitar solo replete with Eastern flavorings, “On My Mind” points the way towards the band’s smoother, more melodious sound, and there’s a solid cover of The 13th Floor Elevators’ “Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)”—but for the most part, The Mighty Lemon Drops are chasing their tails, crafting music from the same burnished-guitars-pounding-drums template. Even the lyrics are middling, as in “Like an Angel,” when the sometimes nasally Paul Marsh sings, “Baby, baby please / You got me on my hands and knees / Baby, baby please / Won’t you give me what you know I need.”
The reissue of Happy Head / Out of Hand is a must for Mighty Lemon Drop diehards, but casual fans are urged to track down the more expansive World Without End—Bunnymen comparisons be damned.