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Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips are best known for being one-half of Luna, one of the most critically acclaimed rock bands of the past two decades. Back Numbers, picks up where their debut album, L'Avventura, left off, with the spotlight on Dean & Britta's vocal interplay on originals like "Words You Used to Say" and "Wait for Me," along with covers of '60s gems such as The Troggs' "Our Love Will Still Be There" and Lee Hazlewood's "You Turned My Head Around." 2007.
The thoroughly excellent sophomore release by the two best-looking members of Luna should make any fans who bemoaned that group's demise happy as hell with its lovingly crafted cocktail hour visions. Back Numbers offers up perfect rainy day music on every graceful, laconic song. The album recalls the sophisticated, decadent sounds of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra throughout. Unsurprisingly, Hazlewood is covered on one song here but this is no cheesy retro exercise; in fact, no one has mined this type of material with such originality since Nick Cave approached it in the 1980s. Each song is imbued with a subtly different style, with nods to the hazy psychedelic folk-rock of Opal and Clay Allison on numbers like "Say Goodnight" and the steampunk synth washes of Sonic Boom (who performs on the album) and Suicide on "Singer Sing." Other numbers like "The Sun Is Still Sunny"--awash in sophisticated strings, hushed dual harmonies, a dash of piano and Mr. Wareham's warm and melodic guitar lines--don't sound like anyone else, at all. Huzzah! --Mike McGonigal
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"Back Numbers" (11 tracks, 44 min.) brings quite a departure from the Luna sound, and that should not come as a surprise. The album brings a more laid-back sound (with again famed producer Tony Visconti at the helm, he produced Luna on at least one album that I can remember, and also Dean & Britta's first album), but with mostly excellent results. There is a mix of originals and about 3-4 excellent covers, including Lee Hazlewood's "You Turned My Head Around", my favorite track on the album, but also Donovan's "Teen Angel", another great track. Other highlights on the album for me include "Words You Used To Say" and "The Sun Is Still Sunny", just outstanding. The album flows great from track to track, and at 44 min. you'll find yourself playing this again and again.
In all, I am loving this album. I'd love to see Dean & Britta in concert bringing these songs in a live setting. Not sure that they do a lot of touring these days (particulary with Dean's newly-found attention with his critically well-received memoir), but one can only hope.
Then, Luna evolved, began sounding more like, well, Luna, and became a really good jam band. At the end of their run, they had more of a late Tom Verlaine sound than early Lou Reed sound (if I recall correctly, Mr. Television did, in fact contribute to some of Luna's later records), and Britta's influence became more pronounced.
Dean and Britta's first album is drop dead gorgeous, and served as a soundtrack for the entire lazy summer of 2003. It still sounds great now. I sent that record to a friend of mine, who sent me an email commenting "it's really mellow, but great". I replied something to the effect that's about what you can expect from a couple who write songs about Valium by the seaside, and themes along those lines.
I've only given "Back Numbers" a couple of spins, but so far, the mellow psilocybin trend continues. Oddly, itunes puts in the "easy listening" category. I think that's far too simplistic of a description, since there's a lot going on below the "easy listening" part if you just pay attention, but, you can also put this on as background music.
Echoes of Lou Reed and Tina Weymouth abound, but the album continues developing what's becoming that unique Dean and Britta sound.
Summer is just around the corner. "Back numbers" is already a strong candidate to become the soundtrack for the (hopefully just as lazy) summer of 2007.
Here they position themselves either as terminally retro or somewhere ahead of the curve. They splice their originals with back numbers from Lee Hazlewood, Donovan Leitch and The Troggs. The pick of these is Britta's soaring take on Hazlewood's You Turn my Head Around.
Crystal Blue R.I.P. calls to mind contemporary singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt (of The Magnetic Fields). As does Dean's deadpan intonation on Words You Used to Say: "Glasses dirty, the drinks are dead. Happy birthday, have this you said/We're color coded, we're coded red. Those are words you used to say".
Best original is the velvety pop of The Sun is Still Sunny, with its laconic "inside my suitcase an orchestra plays". Boldest whimsy is Britta skipping through the cult 1960s TV-show theme White Horses. This attractive album hooks into you like a TV fishing show.
(Canberra Times June 2007)