“Repeat,” the first track on Evan Dando’s Baby I’m Bored, kicks off with the chorus chords. In and of itself, that’s not especially unusual, but “Repeat” isn’t exactly “Build Me Up Buttercup,” and doesn’t obviously lend itself to that kind of restructuring. For one thing, the crunchy, forward-leaning riff that underpins its verse would make a snappy opening on its own. For another, the chorus progression, a wistful, climbing hook, sounds like the second half of a phrase. The effect, then, is like a short story that opens in medias res.
But the choice works well, as 2003’s Baby I’m Bored found Dando picking up a career he’d cut off mid-thought. Unfortunately, in the seven years following his last set of new songs (The Lemonheads’ 1996 Car Button Cloth), pop music had largely moved on from sweet, charming guitar-pop of the “Into Your Arms” or “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” sort.
That’s a shame, as Baby I’m Bored is Dando’s most consistent, thoroughly enjoyable work since The Lemonheads’ 1992 jewel It’s a Shame About Ray. There are, of course, plenty of tunes in Dando’s comfort zone, like “Repeat” or the dark mouthful “The Same Thing You Thought Hard About Is The Same Part I Can Live Without,” the latter written with Aussie songsmith Ben Lee. But freed from the trappings of a band, Dando also experiments with styles. He tries on different Byrd suits, channeling Gene Clark on “Rancho Santa Fe” and Gram Parsons on “It Looks Like You.” Elsewhere, he pushes in the opposite direction, toward skewed rockers like “Waking Up” and “Stop My Head.”
Dando’s dreamy baritone sounds more alert on these songs which, combined with the unusually personal lyrics, gives them a refreshing immediacy just as his inspired choice of collaborators gives them personality. Pop savant Jon Brion lends vocals and plays instruments across the record, as well as co-writing nearly half the tracks. Spacehog’s Royston Langdon contributes, too, most significantly by co-writing “Waking Up” and decorating its verses with unpredictable countermelodies. And Lee writes or co-writes three songs.
For Record Store Day 2017, Fire Records is reissuing Baby I’m Bored with a second disc’s worth of outtakes, covers and b-sides. There’s some filler here; four tracks are alternate versions of songs on the album, and two of those are versions of “The Same Thing…” and the instrumental “Walk in the Woods with Lionel Richie” is pretty forgettable. But a delicate cover of Rainer Ptácek’s “Rudy with a Flashlight” (taken from a 1997 tribute album to the late Tucson singer/songwriter) is absolutely breathtaking, and the chipper “Tongue Tied” boasts one of the most appealing hooks Dando has ever written.
One wonders if the title Baby I’m Bored describes Dando’s worldview in the years after Car Button Cloth, or whether it describes the way he imagines the world will receive the record. Oddly, and perhaps appropriately, it does neither. The songs on Baby I’m Bored show an artist venturing deeper into himself than ever before to produce some of his most magnetic, vulnerable work. Once the needle hits the record, it’s hard to imagine any committed listener turning away.