Luna seem to have lost none of its chemistry as a group.
Born in New Zealand, raised in Australia and transplanted to New York in 1977 at the age of 14, singer-songwriter Dean Wareham is responsible for great music that fewer and fewer people seem to have heard. Thankfully, some still seem to be rediscovering his great albums as the creative force behind Galaxie 500 and Luna. Luna broke up in 2005. Now, after a 12-year hiatus, we have a new Luna LP,A Sentimental Education, and a new EP, A Place of Greater Safety. Both are, in their own way, welcome little treasures of Warehamiana. But with no new songs—the LP is all covers, the EP is all instrumentals—it is hard to know what to do with the new material, as a listener.
A Sentimental Education is an intimate affair, well recorded and beautifully performed. The song selection is solid, as Luna delivers original takes on The Cure, The Velvet Underground, Willie “Loco” Alexander, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Yes, Jagger/Richards, Mink DeVille and Mercury Rev. They bring all the tense, shuffly charm of their albums. Wareham’s voice has aged beautifully, and the guitar interplay between him and Sean Eden is still a compelling listen, like Television’s Verlaine and Lloyd plus smoky cabaret chill.
Many of the songs sound like, well, Luna. As a listener, it is easy to admire how Wareham heard, absorbed and reinvented aspects of these sources and influences, leading him to the aesthetic that would earn him rightful accolades as a great songwriter in his own right. But it also sounds, well, “too much” like Luna. Every song is funneled through the Luna aesthetic, resulting in a lovely, affecting, but somewhat frustrating experience. Fans certainly would prefer Luna originals to flawless but also somewhat frictionless covers of other people’s songs.
But all is not lost. The band’s covers of “Fire in Cairo,” “Gin” (Willie Loco’s minor classic) and Fleetwood Mac’s lesser-known “One Together” exhibit the unassuming command of the best Luna material. The shoegaze-y guitars on the second half of Yes’ “Sweetness” are especially compelling, and their version of the Jagger/Richards-penned “(Walking Thru’ the) Sleepy City” is a revelation. But the cover of Mink DeVille’s “Let Me Dream If I Want To” is a misstep; it sounds out of place and, however well performed, does not have any of Mink’s attitude. The closer, Mercury Rev’s “Car Wash Hair,” is beautiful. But, again, Luna covering Mercury Rev feels too easy, as does their cover of The Velvet Underground song “Friends,” which is a little too on-the-nose.
The EP, on the other hand, is much more exciting. The six tracks work whether you think of them as fleshed-out demos waiting for lyrics to be written or as songs in their own right, perhaps for a movie (Wareham has done soundtrack work over the years). “GTX3” is especially lyrical and enchanting, requiring multiple listens. The title track, too, works wonderfully, like a marriage between Belle & Sebastian and Durutti Column. “Around and Around” features a delicate, cinematic sound, and the romantic “Spanish Odyssey” is a joy. The other two, the rocky “Captain Pentagon” and the fey “Ides of March of the Trolls,” are perhaps slightly less inspired but nonetheless sustained by the group’s sharp, melodic playing.
Wareham, Eden and the others seem to have lost none of their chemistry as a group. They’re a terrific, unique band, and they can do what they want. These offerings, however, will no doubt make fans clamor for more from a reunion than immaculate covers. In the meanwhile, the instrumental EP and (most of) the covers LP are enough.