Dean & Britta – Back Numbers

Dean & Britta
Back Numbers

With Luna officially – and honourably – discharged from record-releasing duties after last year’s excellent retrospective compilations, the demobbed and recently married Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips have wasted little time in turning their self-monikered side-project into a full-time vocation. Fully embracing an indie-rock retirement/conversion/retraining course, the twosome can now be found effortlessly expanding on the duet-drenched pop exotica of 2003’s L’Avventura on this sturdy sophomore set. Produced by erstwhile T.Rex/Bowie/Morrissey knob-twiddler Tony Visconti, it seems that once again, Wareham and Phillips are set upon recasting themselves as a post-millennial and irony-free Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin meets Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra pairing, whilst retaining the dreaminess of Wareham’s more laidback material within the Galaxie 500 and Luna back catalogues. Whilst the 11 esoteric covers and originals that make-up Back Numbers don’t proffer any massive artistic revelations, it’s genuinely hard to imagine hearing another more alluring and – dare it be said – sexy-sounding set of songs in 2007, at least from a former children’s cartoon voiceover actress and an alt. rock godfather.

From initial aural inspections it’s abundantly apparent that Back Numbers isn’t an immediate attention-grabber. Aside from an almost-psychedelic guitar and vocal interpolation on a tremendous take of the Lee Hazlewood-penned “You Turn My Head Around”, this is an album that undoubtedly prefers to take its time with extended foreplay. The gossamer-opening of “Singer Sing” is so subtly enacted – with its lightly applied rhythm track and smeared electronics underpinning a sultry solo Phillips vocal – that it almost feels like eavesdropping on some murmuring pre-coital pillow-talk. Elsewhere, “Wait For Me” would sound even more borderline-pornographic if it weren’t for Phillips’ tones being more amplified amongst the washes of vibraphone and light acoustic strumming. With low-slung bass and tremulous guitars, Wareham performs a similarly lovelorn and lustful move upon Donovan’s “Teen Angel”, to which Phillips responds with the more innocent whimsy of “White Horses” (culled from a cult ‘60s Eastern European children’s TV serial of the same name).

Whilst much of Back Numbers captures Wareham and Phillips singing apart, when the two interlock it certainly does ramp up the Gainsbourg/Birkin-indebted frisson (most markedly on “Me & My Babies”) and the Nancy ‘n’ Lee-inspired cosmic cowgirl/boy chemistry (notably on the gorgeous “Say Goodnight”). Those a little unaccustomed to Wareham’s reorientation from a starry-eyed Velvet Underground disciple to erotic balladeer will find some familiar comfort in the Galaxie 500-flavoured “Crystal Blue R.I.P.” and the Lunafied glide of “Words You Used To Say” – which happily revisit his past without deflating his present.

Just how far Phillips and Wareham can stretch their minimalist musical marriage certainly remains to be seen, but on the evidence of Back Numbers it seems that the twosome are committed to a long-haul, with or without interest from outside ears. But for the time-being the couple’s evocative wares certainly deserve some genuine and well-measured affection.