Fourteen years after its original release, Evan Dando’s Baby I’m Bored has been rereleased on vinyl with a second disc of alternative and live versions, b-sides, and covers. When it was originally released in 2003, Baby I’m Bored was a solo album seven years in the making for the former Lemonheads frontman – long-awaited and deeply rooted in ‘90s sounds and some heavy country influence. Well, it still sounds like the ‘90s, complete with the ennui for which ’90s cool kids were known. So why was this re-released? For Record Store Day… and probably so that Dando has a reason to tour in 2017 (though he was just denied entry into New Zealand to play a few shows.)
The alternative versions are probably the most interesting part of the two discs. “Shots Is Fired,” (which isn’t as grammatically problematic in the lyrics,) is slow and depressed on the album – as it should be, it seems like a depressed person is questioning his decision-making skills over acoustic guitar and sparse piano. The alternative version brings more anger with electric guitar, a strong bass line, drums, a faster tempo, and Liv Tyler purring the chorus. While it sounds great, it kind of changes the meaning of the song – what does it mean with someone else singing “whatever part of you that’s been calling the shots is fired”? That sounds like an accusation rather than the vulnerable self-doubt of the album version. But I’ll be damed if the alternative version doesn’t have that ‘90s alternative sound I so loved. The situation is reversed with “The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is the Same Thing I Can’t Live Without:” the original version has bigger electric guitars than the alternative version (Disc 2 has big, dramatic drums instead.) With or without the big guitars or drums, both feel like they’re building to something big on the verses and the choruses seem like a let-down. Disc 1’s “Rancho Santa Fe” is faster and messier than Disc 2’s alternative version: the stripped-down version is quite lovely without the bells and reverb of the original album track. The alternative version is my favorite song from the entire two-disc set.
This album grows on you with repeated listens. While there were songs I never came around to, many of them became more charming after the third time through. There are some charming songs, like the Ben Lee-penned “Why Do You Do This to Yourself,” a song sung to a junkie accompanied by sweet, shimmery mandolin. “Hard Drive” is a soft song that took a while to grow on me. As Dando lists things about his life (“this is the house I’m building, this is the girl I’m marrying,”) over very gentle percussion, piano, bass, and strummed acoustic guitar, you start assigning meaning to the lyrics. Maybe he’s labeling photos on his computer’s hard drive, maybe he’s telling someone about these things from afar (it was 2003, we were all in chat rooms,) maybe there is a literal drive that is hard that he’s showing… it doesn’t matter what it originally meant, because this relaxing song invites you to assign your thoughts to it. “Au Bord de la Seine,” a B-side from “Stop My Head” (a forgettable track,) is a reimagining of Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee drunkenly ranting about his homophobic ideas in Paris. This country song has the most lyrics of any song on this album and it’s funny (well, it’s funny as long as it’s satire,) but it’s a pretty big departure from the rest of the album in tone and… well, almost everything. “Rudy With a Flashlight,” a Rainier Ptacek cover, sounds a little Donovan-esque; its instrumentals and low vocals are lush and full.
Other songs are forgettable even after multiple listens: “All My Life” is a retrospective about realizing that your priorities have been all wrong. It’s like Dewey Cox’s retrospective song at the end of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but with more wah pedal. On Disc 2, “Walk in the Woods with Lionel Ritchie” has wordless vocals. Songs without lyrics have to make you feel something and this doesn’t. Many of the songs with lyrics have very few actual words. “In the Grass All Wine Colored” is a relaxed, guitar-driven song with few lyrics. In fact, it’s just the title repeated. The guitar does enough talking to make up for the lack of words, but that’s not the case on the not-too wordy and not-too memorable Disc 2’s “Tongue Tied” and “Whoops.” These songs are short, not too wordy, and repetitive: they’re just little ditties stretched to a couple of minutes long.
The weird thing is that some songs are very country (“It Looks Like You,” “Why Do You Do This to Yourself,” the cover of “I Wanna Be Your Mamma Again,” and “Au Bord de la Seine,”) with barely the slightest twang on the remaining songs. “It Looks Like You” and “Why” incorporate some of that ’90s pop-rock-folk into them to keep the album somewhat cohesive, but the country bits still stick out.
This album requires a few listens to let it sink in, but it’s not groundbreaking even after multiple listens. It was probably already outdated when it was originally released in 2003 and time hasn’t gotten any kinder in the years since (the live version of “The Same Thing” has a definite difference in vocals from the studio recordings, so I wonder if it was recorded more recently,) but some tracks are quite enjoyable. Was it critically important to release the tracks on Disc 2? No. The alternative versions are neat, I like two-thirds of them better than the originals, but they didn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s a decent album and the odds are that if you like the Lemonheads, this will be solid. But, then again, if you liked the Lemonheads and bought Dando’s solo singles, you’ve already heard almost all of this.