Starbelly’s Lemonfresh: Still Tasty After All These Years
Easy come, easy go.
A piece I wrote last year on the digital download-only reissue of the expanded version Starbelly’s 1998 release, Lemonfresh, has evaporated into the digital ether. So I am updating it and re-publishing it, here.
Back in 1998, three guys put out a limited release, eleven track CD of Rubber Soul/Big Star-oriented chiming guitar pop on Not Lame Recordings called Lemonfresh to great acclaim. The CD sold out, and disappeared. Not Lame reissued the CD in 2009 with twelve bonus tracks and a CR-R of a live show. Not Lame went out-of-business in 2010. You can buy the CD re-issue of Lemonfresh used for about $60 — if you can find it.
But nothing really dies in the age of the internet. So enter Futureman Records. Futureman, though, does not merely issue “records.” It also re-issues lost Power Pop classics, exclusively by digital download, from its perch on Bandcamp. The twenty-three track reissue of Lemonfresh is available now for the princely sum of $10, in virtually any digital format you desire.
Lemonfresh is as fresh today as it was fourteen years ago. The “record” is seventy-plus minutes of non-stop hooks, melodies, chiming jangly guitars, occasional big beats and consistently clean production. It has all of the stuff to be a massive hit in a different world. But in our world, we can just drink down its poppy goodness.
The opening track, “This Time,” sets the tone for all that comes afterward. It’s a one-minute forty-three second look at romantic disentanglement — attempted, imagined or achieved — set amid perfect vocal harmonies, concise guitars and driving beat:
“She’s So Real” is the kind of song that will play in your head for hours after listening, with its direct statement of lyrical and musical purpose, and the tasty interplay between the lead vocals and background harmonies:
“What You Will” might very well have the blueprint for half of everything Wilco has done since 1999’s Summerteeth. It’s all about personal illusion, or delusion — “Look under your bed/it’s all in your head” — punctuated by strings and those pitch perfect harmonies, once again:
Indeed,Lemonfresh features just about the consistently best vocals you will hear on any rock record, well, this year — even though it was recorded in the late-1990s. Guitarist Cliff Hillis and bassist Dennis Schocket trade lead vocals over the course of the twenty-three tracks, lending the songs a distinct yin-and-yang feel that keeps the proceedings all the more interesting over the course of an hour-and-change. And, as is required in this genre, Lemonfresh features a song about a particular girl. “Letters To Mary” closed the original 1998 release, and would have felt at home on Abbey Road:
There truly is not a weak track on the expanded version of Lemonfresh. That’s quite an achievement over twenty-three songs. Play it in your car and it will keep your head bopping throughout that long, boring commute.
Although Hillis left the band after Lemonfresh was released, and the band hasn’t put out anything new since 2002, he has said that the original members of Starbelly, along with his replacement, are working on new songs for a future release. The band also in playing at one of the shows in the New York installment of this year’s International Pop Overthrow.
In the meantime, though, give Futureman 43 cents for each of the twenty-three songs on Lemonfresh. That’s a steal.