Evan Dando stands as one of contemporary alt rock’s true unsung geniuses, a musical polymath who was one of the first to recognise that when stripped down to their bare essentials, punk, country and pop all looked pretty much the same. Without ever getting bogged down in genre or other cosmetic elements of his sound, Dando churned out brilliant album after brilliant album, culminating in the untouchable Car Button Cloth.
Though it was recorded in the midst of personal upheaval, Car Button Cloth is ultimately about rebirth, renaissance and resilience. It’s worth noting that the album’s ‘darkest’ track, the sickness-centric Hospital, bursts with life and energy, even as Dando croons about disease and death. Similarly, though Losing Your Mind boasts the most soul-stirring vocal performance of Dando’s career, his beautiful timbres taking on all the qualities of a death rattle, the latter half of the song rails and rages with genuine resistance. Though Dando battles lies, insurmountable obstacles and insanity over the course of the songs’ five and a half minutes, he emerges if not triumphant then still utterly defiant.
It is a testament to Dando’s vision that songs like Knoxville Girl, a traditional tune given a grungey makeover, sit happily next to 6ix, a punky number that calls to mind the Lemonheads’ earlier work and boasts a lyric mainly concerned with Gwyneth Paltrow’s disembodied head. Dando never feels the need to self-censor, and his refusal to stick to a singular theme or genre means that the work thrills and buzzes with life and honesty. Dando never does something because it’s cool, or stylish, or to fulfill some kind of over-arching narrative. Dando does it because it makes sense to him.
Nonetheless, it’s impossible to talk about Car Button Cloth’s success without discussing the work of Tom Morgan of Smudge, who wrote Tenderfoot and the peerless Outdoor Type, both of which were originally Smudge songs. The latter in particular is a thrilling example of Morgan’s skills as a songwriter. Like few others out there, Morgan is a master of tonal mashup, and can craft a song that somehow appears deeply funny and yet unavoidably tragic at the same time.
Car Button Cloth is an album unlike many others. It’s a buzzing, thrilling, scatty thing; an album torn from a trying period in a musician’s life, but one that never sounds like a document of failure. It bursts with life, and generosity, and skill, and love, and terror, and torment and beauty. It is a true original, well overdue the praise it rightly deserves.