Dean Wareham’s Reemergence Is The Most Delightful Thing Happening In Music Today

There’s a lot of competition for the title of “most important figure in alternative rock not grasped by the masses,” but surely Dean Wareham wins it.  Both his prior bands, Galaxie 500 and Luna, have cult followings, and interestingly they don’t completely overlap — those who adored the prior don’t necessarily love the latter, and vice versa.  We loved both, and not fully satisfied with the first couple of post-Luna Dean & Britta albums, it was a welcome development in late autumn 2013 when Wareham released a really excellent “mini album” entitled Emancipated Hearts.  This past week he released Dean Wareham, his first real solo album, and in and of itself it is worthy of celebration.  Combined with Emancipated Hearts it may justify a reevaluation of Wareham, and the critical appraisal that he’s due.

Wareham’s an unusual figure in rock’n’roll, New Zealand-born, New York City-raised, an attendee of The Dalton School and Harvard who also wrote one of the best rock-star autobiographies ever, Black Postcards, which came out in 2008, three years after Luna’s demise.  He packs a non-standard punch, insofar as Ivy League-educated alternative rock figures go, in that his singing voice has always been an acquired taste, he plays the most tasteful, masterful lead guitar, writes melodies as gorgeous as anything by Dylan or Robyn Hitchcock, and yet even as a clearly strong writer, few of his songs have much lyrical weight to them.  This is one reason, probably, why he’s never been championed by rock critters as the Living Master that he is.  His songs are beautiful, his bands are great, his singing actually is endearing, his guitar playing prompts drooling, but he’s never strived for real profundity as a songwriter.  And in fact, as soon as we heard Luna’s final album, the elegiac and gorgeous Rendezvous, we suspected things were coming to an end, because he could barely bestir himself to populate the songs with something other than nonsense couplets.

Dean & Britta’s 2010 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, a body of work commissioned by the Warhol Foundation folks in Pittsburgh, was a masterpiece.  And then a few of the songs on Emancipated Hearts, particularly the title track and “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began,” revealed a lyrical weight worthy of Wareham’s obvious literacy and articulation.  He’s trying again, and with Dean and Britta having moved from NYC to a new milieu in Los Angeles, a reemerging Wareham is producing the best music of his long and glorious career.

Dean Wareham is produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and it is an old-fashioned, two-sided LP.  Yes, of course, it’s a digital download and a CD, but it is structured pretty much as two distinct sides.  Something that has always been hard to reconcile is Wareham’s admiration both for the songwriting of his friend Lou Reed and his taste for Glen Campbell.  Yes, you read that right.  But on his solo album, the softer first side and the harder-hitting second half for the first time make these seemingly irreconcilable aspects of his musical personality make sense.  We have spent years culling our favorite songs from Luna albums onto play lists, which assumes also that there are songs we leave behind.  But this is an album you can play all the way through, enjoying everything.

It really takes off in the album’s final 25 minutes, beginning with the breathtaking “Holding Pattern,” but we can’t imagine dropping the first side’s songs out of any playlist.  “Babes In The Woods” finishes with a structure those who loved “Friendly Advice” from Luna’s live shows will surely recognize, and both versions of “Happy & Free” will bring a smile to the faces of anyone who’s spent the evening driving with Galaxie 500 or Luna on the tape deck.

Black Postcards was a book that reminded mamas not to raise their kids to be rock stars, but 25 years or more into his career, Wareham’s status as national treasure is more than confirmed by Dean Wareham.  We think it is his most satisfying album, and that’s really saying something.

One Response to “Dean Wareham’s Reemergence Is The Most Delightful Thing Happening In Music Today”

  1. […] Tulip Frenzy gets excited by Dean’s “re-emergence”: […]

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