Dean Wareham is apparently incapable of doing any wrong. From his days with Galaxie 500, through to Luna and his work with Luna bassist Britta Phillips, it is always possible to rely on him to deliver the goods.
Late last year Wareham released a mini-album entitled Emancipated Hearts which appeared to find him returning tentatively to his Galaxie roots for inspiration and examining his past in unusual clarity. Rather than mask everything in haze, Emancipated Hearts possessed sonic clarity rare in his previous work. It would be reasonable to expect this fully realised album to follow a similar path, but in truth, this is a different beast altogether. Where Emancipated Hearts stuck to a fairly rigid sonic template, these songs explore a greater range.
Opening track The Dancer Disappears finds Wareham turning his back on everything. There’s a train he’s hoping to catch so he can leave the whole wide world behind. Beat The Devil finds him taking the high road to the sea. Within the space of two songs there’s a yearning to escape the past and the present and just go anywhere. How many trains make scheduled stops anywhere outside the perimeters of the whole wide world anyway?
Although it would appear that Wareham is unhappy with his lot, his music suggests otherwise. The Dancer Disappears actually drives along with some vigour. The drums snap back with a sound that echoes drum machines and the sound of a steam train gathering pace. There are also occasional glimpses of positivity to be found too: “There’s a spark that I’m hoping to catch,” sings Wareham in that familiar tone of his, indicating perhaps that whilst he wants to move on, he wants to maintain his creative endeavours.
Ultimately, this is an album of wildly swinging emotions. For every glorious uplifting moment, there’s a lyrical barb or plainly expressed doubt to counteract it. The downcast acoustic strum of Love Is Not A Roof Against The Rain for example is utterly heartbreaking and apparently bereft of all hope. “What have I done with my life?” asks Wareham in a way that suggests that maybe it is time to worry about himself.
Then along comes Holding Pattern, a song that bristles with positive energy. There’s a little of Dinosaur Jr about it and with a wonderful guitar flourish at the close it is hard not to acknowledge a tinge of Galaxie 500 too. The usage of old American rock band names in the lyrics (Kansas, Toto, Journey, Boston) suggest a good time on paper, despite Wareham constantly insisting that something is not his choice (my money is on Toto). In that regard it has the feel of someone going to a party, not really wanting to be there, and then having the time of their life.
I Can Only Give My All treads a fine line between the introspective and all out bombast. With a skittering drum pattern, Wareham applies a little Joy Division atmosphere and throws in an occasional outburst of guitar histrionics. The effect is a whirling fug of emotions that packs quite a punch. “She will never be all mine, she says all my songs are sad,” he sings; she’s clearly not been listening intently.
For anyone missing the soft focus approach, Babes In The Wood covers that angle adequately. It’s a take on the folk tale, and awash with reverb and booming drums. It would sound unbearably threatening if it weren’t for Wareham’s falsetto vocal line hanging over the song like an omnipresent fairy godmother.
The album closes with the utterly gorgeous Happy And Free. There’s a hint of Lou Reed at play; perhaps it’s the sound of Wareham gazing at the heavens and thinking of The Phantom Of Rock ‘n’ Roll. There’s depth here, but it’s the introspective kind; this is the sound of untold wonder. There are many such moments on this album, and it might give those who constantly clamour for a Galaxie 500 reunion pause for thought. Wareham, at least for the moment, is perfectly happy and free on his own.