Sharps & Flats

Luna's latest album got the band dumped by Elektra. For once, a major label made the right call.

By Seth Mnookin

Published November 12, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Late last summer, Luna's longtime label, Elektra, dumped the band just weeks before the scheduled release of "Days of Our Nights." Hearing this, it was hard not to hope that "Days" would be a triumphant album. Luna had always seemed a bit out of place on a major label, and it seemed conceivable that the Elektra decision was just another example of corporate cluelessness. Maybe the Luna album would confirm this, or even prove that there are fewer reasons than ever to believe that there are small pockets of hope in the increasingly harsh world of the majors.

But "Days of Our Nights" is not a triumphant record -- it's not even a decent record. "Days," which was released in Europe a few months ago, recently picked up by indie label Jericho and is now being distributed in the States by Sire, makes it pretty clear that after a few albums' worth of lackluster sales, Elektra finally dropped Luna because the album sucks.

As recently as 1996, it seemed as if Luna were finally ready to become the disaffected voice for a generation of sensitive souls raised on Morrissey and R.E.M. But where singer-guitarist Dean Wareham's weary, worldly wonder once was sharp and knowing, it now seems dull and insipid. Several years ago, Wareham was reeling off cutting couplets like, "And if you read your poetry aloud to me/I'll have to show you to the door." Now, the best he can do is this: "You made an educated guess/'Cuz you're an educated girl."

Evidence of Wareham's lyrical laziness is everywhere on "Days." On "Seven Steps to Satan," a tiresome number detailing a space cult that believes aliens will soon be landing on Earth -- did this idea seem good at some point? -- Wareham rhymes "high" with "Californ-i-eye." Once, this might have sounded cute; now it just sounds affected. Later, Wareham offers only this observation: "The world is hard to understand."

Musically, Luna has returned to focusing on dreamy soundscapes after the ill-conceived layering techniques on "Pup Tent" (1997). "Dear Diary" features the understated interplay of Wareham's and Sean Eden's guitars, which jingle and chime throughout the album. And Eden's judicious wah-wah at the end of "4000 Days" make the guitarist sound like Jerry Garcia reincarnated as a mellow indie rocker. But even these sonic bright spots cannot save a trite, insipid effort.

Not surprisingly, the best number on "Days of Our Nights" is a cover. Wareham and Luna have always had a knack for homage. Wareham started the tradition in his old band, Galaxie 500, which covered the Rutles, Joy Division and Yoko Ono with aplomb. With Luna, his rendition of Beat Happening's "Indian Summer," with its ringing guitars and easy vocals, reinvented the Beat Happening original. Here, an opiated version of Guns 'n' Roses "Sweet Child O' Mine" -- Wareham singing like he's swimming through molasses and Eden reducing Slash's frenetic, testosterone-fueled solos into meandering, laconic excursions -- is the one bright spot on an otherwise dreary effort.

It turns out, natch, that previous to being shitcanned, Luna was forced by Elektra to put "Sweet Child" on the album in a last-ditch effort to save it. It's hard to say what's more disappointing: that the money men at the record label were dead right, or that even this doesn't save a depressing, disjointed, disconsolate effort.

Seth Mnookin

Seth Mnookin is the co-director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT and he blogs at the Public Library of Science. His most recent book is "The Panic Virus: The True Story of the Vaccine-Autism Controversy" (Simon & Schuster). His Twitter handle is @sethmnookin.

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