After seven solid records of crystalline dream pop spun like cotton candy around classic rock song structures, NYC’s Luna, once declared the “best band you’ve never heard of” by Rolling Stone, have released their first new material since an amicable split in 2005.
Rather than properly return with an album’s worth of material that updates the band’s pillowy soft indie rock, Luna have instead opted to release a full album of covers along with an instrumental EP of new material. It’s a strange decision, and one that undermines the gravity of the band. By releasing these two projects at once, it seems as if Luna are overcompensating for a lack of new fully fledged songs.
However, half of Luna’s original appeal was found in the gooey guitar interplay between frontman Dean Wareham and guitarist Sean Eden. To hear the two dust off the old Luna formula across six new songs, vocals present or not, should still be a treat.
The neatly arranged guitar ribbons of opener “GTX3” at least hint at what could’ve been a decent lead single for a full Luna song. The rest of the material, comparatively, simply cycles through tepid melodies without truly breaking into fully fleshed out soundscapes that stand on their own without vocals. When listening the stumbling “Captain Pentagon” or bouncy stroll of “Spanish Odyssey,” it’s frustrating to remember this is the same band behind the swaggering rock n’ roll monster “23 Minutes in Brussels.”
The tracklist of the winkingly titled Sentimental Education, boasts b-side covers from names both big (The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan) along with artists only true crate diggers will recognize (Mink Deville, Willie “Loco” Alexander).
Luna’s prowess as an occasionally impressive cover band is well documented, going so bold as to end 1999’s The Days of Our Nights with a slow burning version of GnR’s “Sweet Child O’Mine.” Sadly, the performances here stick too closely to the source material to offer anything truly exciting or gripping.
Several of the original songs here are already fairly midtempo, so Luna’s patented sound only slows them down more. That said, these are performances only Luna could deliver, especially in Wareham’s uniquely flat vocal style. The band adds a bit more drift to the Velvet Underground’s “Friends” while Yes’ “Sweetness” loses the airtight vocal harmonies in favor of a righteous closing guitar solo.
Perhaps the best track of the bunch is Rolling Stones’ oddity “(Walkin’ Thru The) Sleepy City.” Ambient rain in the background offers an evocative sense of place, as if Wareham is singing inside the very cafe referenced in the lyrics. His singing, coupled with the band’s nodding, restrained performance gives this version a sense of sad longing completely absent from the original.
Luna, despite their modest career, were a better band than most give them credit for. If these first two lukewarm releases from their second coming are any indication, it’s a fact they don’t seem to recognize either.