splendid > reviews > 10/26/2004

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Speedbumps"

Buy me now
A few weeks ago, Luna calmly announced that Rendezvous would be their final record. They presented this news so gently -- placidly, even -- that a lot of people missed it at first. It didn't really become common knowledge until last week, and some of you probably didn't know until now.

Even so, it's not really a surprise. Luna have never seemed to be past their prime -- if anything, 2002's Romantica was a distinct second wind -- but for some reason we can accept their passing without shock or astonishment. It's kind of like learning, long after you've finished school, that your favorite teacher has died: you take a second to add up the years, then think, "Yeah, that makes sense."

Please put those funereal thoughts aside, if you can; we don't want to make any unwarranted assumptions about the record. Rendezvous has been in critics' hands for months already, and there's no reason to assume that the band's decision to retire predated the recording sessions, so whatever bittersweet vibe you catch from the disc is most likely imagined. Rather, Rendezvous is an indolent, almost hedonistic album, as mellow as a fistful of illicit muscle relaxants. Its melodies are pretty but never showy, suffused with an effortless gorgeousness that requires no validation from outsiders. Luna have nothing left to prove.

Dean Wareham's distinctive vocals -- never quite spoken, never quite sung -- still mark him as a kinder, gentler, more boyish Lou Reed. He continues to favor ironic couplets, lists, see-saw rhymes and carefully compounded cultural references; you'll often find more meaning hidden in individual lines, and in the subtle relationships between lyrical phrases, than you will in his broader narratives. However, that's not always the case. In opener "Malibu Love Nest", for example, he's whimsical but straightforward: he writes his lover's name on every available surface ("on the walls and on the streets / in the sand and on the beach" and so forth) as if he's determined to proclaim his love but uncertain of how to actually go about it. Soaring slide guitar and a VU-style final-minute flare-up make an appealing song even catchier.

The Cindy in "Cindy Tastes of Barbecue" may be the same Cindy that the Jesus and Mary Chain worshipped in their classic "Taste of Cindy", but that's not the point; it's merely an inspired character detail in the sleepy, blissful trip propelled by Britta Phillips' insistent bass line. "Speedbumps" has more sweet, off-kilter energy behind it, but don't be surprised if you sing the lyrics to The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" instead of learning Wareham's words; he has a habit of "borrowing" skeletal melodies from other songs. That's why "Star-Spangled Man", despite its laundry list lyrics, sounds so much like the opening to Roxy Music's "More Than This", though the resemblance quickly erodes.

The languid yet tasteful "Motel Bambi" and "Still at Home" are Rendezvous's home stretch, but don't unroll your sleeping bag just yet. "Buffalo Boots" offers a burst of bleating electric guitars and psych-rock fuzz, and as "Rainbow Babe" smears its fat, fuzzy, stuffed-up barre chords across the sound field, Luna head off into the reddish-gold sunset.

One other song deserves special mention: "Astronaut", originally released on Luna's Close Cover Before Striking EP, was clearly destined for bigger and better things. It's one of the best songs the band has ever written, but it doesn't sound much like their other material. It's fast-paced, muscular and exuberant, with a slippery New Order bassline and kinescope-style guitar-pedal effects added for good measure. An offhand description can't do it justice; it's an overpowering burst of joy, with nonsense lyrics like "I wanna plug you in / I wanna get you things / send you a pentagram / feed you diazepam." Listening is as grand and illogical and heart-fluttering as being in love. There's a slightly different mix here than on Close Cover Before Striking -- minor details, really -- but you'll want to own both. Seriously, it's that good.

Luna's career doesn't require a grand finale-type flourish, and Rendezvous doesn't presume to offer one. Intentionally or not, it creates a sort of natural, autumnal closure -- like a gorgeous, lazy, completely uncommitted fall afternoon delivered in three- to five-minute slices. There's a riot of color, and a wealth of subtler sensory information, and a picture-perfect sunset ready and waiting to be walked into. Thanks, Luna.



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