Luna – Best of/Lunafied [European Edition]

Luna
Best of/Lunafied [European Edition]

When it comes to veritable American alt-rock institutions of the last decade or so, the clichéd adage of “you don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone” rings repeatedly and depressingly true. For when Luna disbanded amicably in 2005, not enough of the music-loving world paid their due respects, despite over 13 or so years of charming consistency. There are many identifiable reasons for the group’s relative anonymity of course. Singer/songwriter Dean Wareham’s preceding stint in the near-legendary Galaxie 500 has certainly cast a mythical shadow over all of his later works, that’s been impossible escape. Troublesome record label shifts have derailed favourable trading terms; with Elektra dumping the band in the US after 4 albums and Beggars Banquet neglecting to license 2004’s swansong album, Rendezvous, for European release. Aesthetically too, Wareham and co. have rarely fitted into prevailing fads or fashions; often being too mid-tempo, too geeky and – until the installation of bassist Britta Phillips – totally lacking in sex appeal. Whilst such factors may have unfairly conspired against Luna on a commercial level, it did allow the group to steer a rewarding creative course that can be retrospectively recognised, as this double-CD set happily contests.

Whilst this European Beggars issue of the Luna’s ‘hits’ compendium does churlishly exclude extracts from the aforementioned US-only Rendezvous album, it has the edge over its Stateside Rhino counterpart through adding a slightly different edition of the previously download-only Lunafied covers collection as a bonus disc. Collectively these two CDs offer the fullest picture possible of Luna’s evolution, individuality, influences and wilful sense of mischief.

The choice selection of Luna album tracks and singles on the first disc gives a great grounding on the band’s studio canon; picking songs that capture the complete – albeit narrow – stylistic spectrum of Luna’s wares but which also gel together well as a likeable standalone long-player. Highlights abound, especially with songs from 1995’s acclaimed third LP, Penthouse. There’s plenty of gorgeous Galaxie 500-like dreaminess – thankfully minus the reverb-heavy fogginess – particularly on the elegiac “Anesthesia”, the deeply lovely “Lost In Space” and the jazz-inflected “Into The Fold”. In-between times, Wareham’s notable affection for the whimsical self-deprecating penmanship of Jonathan Richman is wrapped-up in the indie-pop of “Bobby Peru”, “Sideshow By The Seashore” and “Black Postcards”. Although Wareham’s gang members were never big experimentalists, the looped percussion, intricate bass-lines, mangled guitar noise, distorted trumpet and stream-of-consciousness lyrics on the imaginative “IHOP” showed that they could once have given the likes of Yo La Tengo or American Analog Set a run for the post-rock money. For the bulk of the band’s lifespan however, Luna’s links to The Velvet Underground/Television NYC-rock lineage were never shied away from, as is clearly evident on the most speed-driven moments collected here. In fact, for the blissful frenetic chug of “Friendly Advice”, The Velvets’ sadly-departed Sterling Morrison even chipped-in on guest guitar, as did Television’s Tom Verlaine for the towering epic strains of “23 Minutes In Brussels”.

Despite being culled from various b-sides and non-album sources, there’s no dramatic dip in quality throughout the bundled Lunafied disc, which finds Wareham reinterpreting elements of his diverse record-collection with fun, fondness and flair. From the sublime shoe-gazing treatment of Beat Happening’s “Indian Summer”, via a spectral six-string reworking of Kraftwerk’s synth-pop gem “Neon Lights”, through a stirring stab at Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and a spooky drum-led reconstruction of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”, there are lots of marvellous makeover moments to be found. The only downsides come from the absence of the previously released Luna renderings of Jonathan Richman’s “Dance With Me” and “Fly Into The Mystery”, the strange decision to include two marginally different versions of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Bonnie And Clyde” and the sad omission of the group’s reworking of The Stones’ “Waiting On A Friend”. Minor gripes aside though, Lunafied gives Wareham the future option of fronting the best quirky covers band around, should his post-Luna career ever turn sour that is.

Overall, this smartly compiled Luna anthology achieves the rare feat of being both a well-signposted route into a neglected back catalogue and a tasty self-contained appetite-sating feast. Investigate and dig-in without delay.