Once Upon A Rhyme In America
In the month of October, with musicians railing about endorsements and civic duty, an outdated lyric campaigned in my mind: "Nixon's in a coma and I hope it's gonna last." It's doubtful that Luna's Dean Wareham was trying to politically persuade or even offend people when he sang those words on Penthouse in 1995. He probably just wanted a rhyme for "Headed for Tacoma and driving too fast." That's the way the lead singer operates; he pairs words in Seussian swirls and unwittingly writes some of dream-pop's finest poetry. Who else could convince us that the perfect rhyme for "girlies" is "earlies"? These seemingly nonsensical jewels hide away in the band's eternal shimmer. Maybe the secret decoder ring that deciphers them can be found in an out-of-season amusement park, or a night of big-city club hopping, or a pop culture phenomenon that didn't even exist when the lyric was penned. The key to Wareham's words is that they latch onto your brain until given a chance to make sense of themselves.
Rendezvous (Jetset), Luna's seventh studio release and final album, continues these beautifully cryptic sonnets. Hear just one song by Luna and you'll forever recognize the warm glow of guitars and lullaby bass, topped off by an instrument incongruous with your average bliss-out. Wareham's milquetoast voice suggests a bank teller who scribbles his lovelorn secrets on the backs of deposit slips only to unleash them on an empty room at open mic night. He's nebbishy, quietly romantic, and--as many of his songs suggest--dreaming of road trip getaways. Rendezvous adds Malibu, Kansas City, and Buffalo to his itinerary. And you're invited along with a gentle Honey bunny, come on.
This particular travelogue also marks the first (and last) time Wareham breaks from his role of monotone Casanova to hand the mic to guitarist Sean Eden. The transition is seamless; on the lazy "Broken Chair," Eden's soft falsetto floats on bassist Britta Phillips's airy backups. Having transformed herself from a former cartoon-voice actress into Wareham's indie songstress partner on a side-project album called L'Avventura, Phillips is sadly underutilized on Rendezvous. But in the rare moments when a feminine voice chimes in, the music reassures you that Wareham's heartsick outsider isn't so alone in the world.
For all their glittery dream scenery, Luna are at their most likeable when they're toppling the cubicle walls and fleeing for the highway. Though the band never quite reaches raucous heights, "Speedbumps" begs to be accompanied by a sunshine-on-asphalt glare. Equally boisterous is "Astronaut," a song so nice they released it twice. Here they offer a remix that sounds nearly identical to the giddy love letter that first appeared on 2002's Close Cover Before Striking. While the tiniest bit of flange on the drum breakdowns might nudge you toward the dance floor, the buoyant guitar still renders ironic Wareham's desire to "send you a pentagram" and "feed you Diazepam."
In its second half, Rendezvous almost seems to lampoon Wareham's A-B-A-B nursery rhymes. "Star-Spangled Man" and "Motel Bambi" are laundry lists of cutesy couples: denim suit and snakeskin boot, Stephen Sprouse and Chairman Mouse, key lime pie and hazy sky. They might seem like overly twee filler now, but sometime in the future, these words could echo all that's important in your life--or just a fleeting thought in an Arizona diner.
To the unindoctrinated bystander, the whole concept of pulling esoteric meaning out of Wareham's silly words might seem even more absurd than the words themselves. Maybe that idea is absurd. Or maybe years from now, when the members of Luna have settled into other projects, their fans will figure out what it all means. This isn't instant-gratification knowledge; it's not a secret they can share. You have to find your own decoder ring.
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