Luna- Rendezvous: Jetset 2004
This review has been sitting on my desktop since the day I received the promo in the mail, waiting for a date closer to the October 26th release to post. Things have changed, as many may have recently read, Rendezvous is to be the LAST Luna release (announced last Thursday). There has been speculation deep within the Luna fan world of a swan song for some time, though I don’t think any of us really suspected a pending breakup. There has been surprisingly no official word as to the why and how’s- with Dean being in France to promote the soundtrack to Olivier Assayas’ newest film Clean. Word has it we’ll hear (or at least there will be interviews) next week.
I could go on for pages spouting how sad I am about the pending end of what has been the most influential band of perhaps the most tumultuous span of years in my life. I have found my thoughts on the cd to be changing since hearing the news; I suppose I started to think of it as a completely different work rather than a release on its own. This is not as refined as I had hoped, but it is my original thoughts on the cd. For what it’s worth, my dopamine receptors are shot to hell, my thoughts are spongy, I can’t see well. 12 years, 7 proper releases, 3 Eps, 1 live release and a plethora of compilations, singles, and rarities (as well as a few line-up changes) is a respectable career, and they seem to be disbanding while still near the top of their game.
With Rendezvous, Luna took a different approach to recording, this time putting the tracks down with all band members playing live in the recording room. Also different in approach is the lack of guest musicians, limited use of guitar effects, and less use of layering. The cover art for the release takes Luna’s fascination with the tiny hours between the evening and the day a step further, using the erotically kitsch photography of motelfetish.com.
It’s been a busy year for Luna front man Dean Wareham, supporting the limited release of Alison Bagnall’s film Piggie (where he plays the lead role of a bungling ex credit card thief as well as contributing music to the soundtrack). Dean has also contributed to the soundtrack of Olivier Assayas’ Clean, with two new solo pieces (supported on bass by Britta Phillips) Strawberry Stain and Wait for Me. This year has also seen the release of faboo Galaxie 500 retrospective video “Don’t let our Youth Go to Waste” Guitarist Sean Eden has also been rumored to have lent his ax wielding talent to Elk City for a few live performances, and bassist Britta Phillips starred in an overseas commercial for cigarrettes. Luna/Dean and Britta material has also been featured in a few commercials (Drunken Whistler in Amex and Night Nurse in (gulp) Bud).
Romantica benefited lyrically from Dean’s relative dark period, Rendezvous, while musically achieved, seems lyrically lacking in comparison. Rendezvous is distinctly different from prior Luna releases, seeming to bask more in the afterglow than in seduction.
In the interest of full disclosure, Dean Wareham is one of my heroes. As I have recounted in the past, he could huff helium and yodel show tunes and I would buy the result and probably embrace more than half of it. He’s never really been off and even in what is arguably their least album, Days of Our Nights, they are on game at over 65%.. and that’s hard to beat for a band with such longevity. Hell, a hero is not easy to have, as a wise man once said, to paraphrase ,“the most exhilarating parts of admiring someone for their artistic accomplishments is that they never live up to your expectations” (though he also expounded to include resentment.. I can never resent Luna, because they somehow manage to deliver at a level while less than I want, more than I get from others I admire similarly)
The opener, Malibu Lovenest, has been a crowd favorite at recent live performances. It is a bit sunshiny for a Luna song, sort of lacking in the wryness one expects from Dean. Lyrically it is lazy “In the bathroom on the plane, on the bus and on the train, I’ll write your name/In Malibu” Musically, however, it is a great opener, the band gels together in a similar fashion to Lovedust and it is one of the most accessible songs on the release (making for a logical single).
Cindy Tastes of BBQ shows off Luna’s musical maturation and is one of the more obvious examples of Eden and Wareham’s shimmery strumming that is their trademark. Very childlike lyrics, almost impetuous ” your purple mouth tastes of snicker snack, I’m turning round I’m turning back” Cindy also contains one of the few “Deanisms” of the cd “North of North Dakota east of Easter egg” I look forward to seeing the band rock out ala Black Postcards while performing this number live.
In my opinion, Speedbumps is the “California (all the way)” of Rendezvous. Since hearing it live on New Years, I have been singing it’s chorus…” On the way to Kansas City, tell me who I’m supposed to be” Though, concerning are the lyrics “I don’t want to ride your bus, I am tired of all of us” (for those calling this a swan song) (Postscript, I found this particularly striking post-news) The lyrics and melody of this song are very similar to Dean’s contribution to the 6ths Wasp Nest, the stellar, Falling Out of Love With You. Speedbumps may be that classic moment when all the components of Luna steep together in wonderfulness and the outcome is one tasty sangria. Oddly enough, its quick pace suggests… well, bumps of speed; anticipatory, slightly agitated, seeking resolution. mostly thanks to Lee Wall’s most excellent drumming.
In a surprise upset, The Owl and the Pussycat vies as runner up in the contest for best song of album. Catchy melody played on the low E string of Sean’s Fender. The Owl struck me as an obvious parallel to the Slow Song- this being a Bossa to it’s waltz. Dean (as others have already noted) lifts from the Edward Lear poem of the same name, but to stunning effect. If this is the direction Luna (or, now I suppose Dean solo) is going, I am excited by the prospects. It seems like a post coital walk along the shore on an Indian Summer evening. This is not a song of lust, but of soul-bearing midnight conversation with someone of long-term significance. A little visit to “the land where the bong tree grows”.
Luna includes on Rendezvous a touched up version of Astronaut, a worthy song that did deserve a proper release, and a song that just may tie the album together. You can read my review of the song here. This is Luna at the top of their game. My eyes are peeling.
The first thing I have to say about Broken Chair is the following- Sean can sing. This is the first of two songs sung by Sean Eden (who does sound quite like a less nasal version of Dean’s upper register, but also much like Jim James of My Morning Jacket, a band that has acknowledged Sean’s support in their liner notes). This was quite surprising, perhaps because most of Sean’s onstage banter is in some odd affected tongue (or animal sound), it seemed hard to imagine him seriously singing. Broken Chair is almost Grandaddyesque in its chorus. Britta Phillips’ sugary backing vocals tie the song together.. It was hard as a diehard fan to accept a non-dean fronted song,. but it grew on me; Broken Chair is still Luna shimmery and the first of a collection of Rendezvous songs that lean closer towards “alt-country”…
Star Spangled Man continues the more “alt-county” sound though is slightly reminiscent CCBS’s closer The Alibi.. Dean pens another interesting lyrical parallel (though one veiled so much that you pretty much need regular exposure to children to complete) journeying from Stephen Sprouse (NY counterculture artist), Chairman Mouse (fictional unless you link with Geronimo- in which case it is a often read children’s book about a identity changing mouse)..Chao Young Phat (link between Deanism of Chairman Mouse), Geronimo Pratt (Black Panther leader) Chairman Mouse could just be a Deanism, or it could be a clever lyrical game, who knows, I found the trail interesting. This is another likely contender for excellent live Luna treatment.
I was surprise to hear Motel Bambi following Star Spangled Man, as the have strikingly lyrical methods (half sung/spoke) It actually sounds a tad repetitive and may have come across as a better song if differently placed. Despite the reverb laden yumminess, the lyrics leave much to be desired.. “I like flowers, I like sex”.. yeah Dean, who doesn’t.
Still at Home is the better of the two “Sean” songs that is also very countryesque and beautiful. This is very UnLuna, if you apply the standard Luna Litmus Test ™. Sean has a very pretty voice, it will be interesting to hear more of him should his side project (potential new project?, note also with Luna’s Lee Wall) the Weeds of Eden take off.
Buffalo Boots reminds me of a wankier Drunken Whistler. Dean employs more speak/singing and the lyrics are as wanky as the playing they support. Too technically played to be a “Fuzzy Wuzzy”, but similarly sexual in vein. Very voyeuristic; “Girl in the window that I really want to snuggle, and at the supermarket I have to bite my knuckle… mother of a girl, spill in my spill.” My first thought was, could this song be influenced by those horrible Ugg boots people have taken to wearing with mini-skirts (or at least they did earlier this summer), and that made me sad.
The album closes with Rainbow Babe, which has a very sleepy post-sex vibe…This song sounds like the aural equivalent of lazy vacation sex in a South American motel after a day lounging in the sun. I have to say that this is Luna at their worst lyrically, for example, “Midnight fell at 12:00” or.”2 and 2 makes 22” Somehow though; the lyrics seem to match the half asleep mutterings the song implies and as a whole the song survives.
Rendezvous is a somewhat efficient but generous 40 minute journey from the couch to undress to sex to cozy almost sleep, allowing for two peaks and a, slow descent to a relaxed cuddle that drifts towards slumber… could this be love?
Whatever happens next, I look forward to seeing the output of each soon-to-be former Luna member. Let’s hope the parts can be as magical as they were when whole.