Luna: Romantica



Dean Wareham sure generates a strange array of responses from his more avid listeners. The Luna frontman's nerd-boy coo inspires rock crits to boast of their sexual prowess (or to at least protest their sexual activity) so violently you'd think dude was Arto Lindsay or somebody. (Rolling Stone senior editor Joe Levy's anecdotal essay on what a perfect coital soundtrack Luna provides--included in the liner notes to 2000's Luna Live--was hardly the first such gush, though it was probably the ickiest.) And Wareham earns those gushes. If the Lou Reed deadpan is the Ur-vocal of indie rock, Wareham's pert flatness sums up the hushed eroticism of that voiceprint as surely as Ira Kaplan does its narcoleptic introspection or Stephen Malkmus does its cerebral arrogance.

Then there are the guitar addicts, for whom Wareham is like a shoegazer's Robin Trower. At a 1999 First Avenue show, said nuts were whooping it up (literally!) like it was Skynyrd up onstage, or at least Built to Spill. As Luna's newest album title indicates, however, Wareham is playing to the former fan base. (Titles say it all with Luna--dig the progression from 1995's Penthouse to 1997's Pup Tent.) He continues to transform the simplest variants on ascending and descending scales into layered Televisionary flights, but they're bent into hooks by producers Dave Fridmann and Gene Holder. The resulting soundscapes are lush rather than adventurous.

As it should be, getting booted from Elektra three years back was adventure enough for one aging romanticat. "If I had to do it all again/I wouldn't," Wareham shrugs on "Black Postcards" (track three, not to be confused with track four, "Black Champagne.") And the eminently quotable "Once we had dreams/Now we have schemes," from the eminently regretful "Renée Is Crying," is being interpreted by critics as a coded farewell to the shattered illusions of the post-alt community. But maybe schemes are preferable to dreams, particularly since Wareham's previously best-known quote was the acid "In my dreams/I slash your tires." I prefer Wareham's rhyme for "Salt and pepper squid/And Singapore noodles": "I could look at your face/For oodles and oodles." To cram one's regrets into wry couplets is an achievement. But to face down those regrets (and the face that summons up those regrets) with such a mix of gawkiness and elegance--that's an art.

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