[18 February 2007]
No stranger to bowing out, Dean Wareham has already broken up two of the most modestly iconic bands in indie rock. While Galaxie 500 imploded into indelibility, Luna outlasted nearly every other darling of the 1990s until finally calling it quits in 2005. With that band now well behind him, Wareham is set to debut the next phase of his career.
Since a certain cozy quality has always warmed his work, it’s not at all surprising that Wareham’s return should sound so very familiar. Back before the end of their run in Luna, Wareham teamed up with bassist Britta Phillips for an album of casually seductive collaborations. Back Numbers pairs the two together again, this time not only as bandmates but husband and wife, as well.
While that first album cumbersomely carried both of their names in entirety, their latest is credited to the more distinctly abbreviated Dean & Britta. The shift is subtle yet significant. No longer a one-off recording project, Wareham’s work with Phillips now constitutes a full-time band. That refocusing imparts a sense of purpose and identity that may not match Wareham’s prior peak, but proves enough to rival his more recent prime.
Although another lollingly lulling affair, Back Numbers is far from listless. The deeper commitment of both artists to their songs and one another comes across with smoldering intensity. Whispering electronics open the album as Phillips rolls her honeyed tongue into soothing coos, with Wareham enveloping her in shimmering jangle. Once he lays his voice over hers at the chorus, the defining tone of hushed but bracing intimacy is well established.
Galaxie 500 fans will swoon with these lilting advances, while Luna aficionados will revel in their ethereal spaciousness. Producer Tony Visconti filters in a pleasing degree of glimmer and haze, while ex-Spacemen 3 member Sonic Boom elongates the orbit of a few tracks with his usual electrical audio experiments. For all of these flourishes, the affair remains affably casual. The comforting closeness extended in the album’s welcoming embrace is never sacrificed for sake of trickery. If anything, these embellishments only further entice the listener with teasing delights.
That flirtatious allure works well with the collection of covers and originals selected for the record. Indulging in his penchant for reinterpretation, Wareham inserts a few obscure songs from the 1960s, including the unintentionally timely Lee Hazlewood track “You Turn My Head Around”. Set in the context of such sublimely gossamer tones, these songs radiate an inclusive warmth as equally appealing to fans of The Future Crayon as The Cowboy and the Lady.
That feeling puts Back Numbers on par with later era Luna, and maybe even exceeds it. Freed from the defined constraints of his former band, Wareham’s melodic sense has eased and expanded to more fully fit his voice. Arriving where Luna was already headed at their breakup, the album feels much more realized than that band ever did at their end. Anyone who has followed Wareham this far along should find that rewarding, while anyone looking for an introduction would do well to start here and work their way back.