There aren’t many who can boast the consistency of Dean Wareham; certainly not from anyone who has been in the game as long as he has – through Galaxie 500, Luna, Dean & Britta and across soundtrack work and now a (belated) solo career. But boast is one thing you’ll never hear Wareham do. Here he sounds world-weary, but never bored nor detached. He’s singing a type of middle-aged ennui that never falls toward indulgence. He’s still with Britta (Phillips) – she’s just taking a backseat in the naming rights. And with this, an eponymous/debut full-lengther, following so swiftly after last year’s (brilliant) mini-album/EP you have to see (and hear) this as the continuing rebirth of a man having taken stock of his past. There was the autobiography and shows where he played the Galaxie 500 catalogue, also the Andy Warhol screen tests show – about as close as Wareham could get to aping his beloved Velvet Underground.
So with all of that – and Luna/Dean & Britta – checked off, accounted for, it’s time to hear from Wareham the solo act.
There’s still that dream-pop sound, and on Heartless People there’s still that post-VU ideal, a hint of how that band might have carried on if the same line-up had have been able to continue after Loaded.
Where last year’s Emancipated Hearts was produced by Papercuts’ Jason Quever this debut album proper has My Morning Jacket’s Jim James at the desk, adding his strange and gauzy thread to the tunes.
My Eyes Are Blue could have you thinking again of the VU, a palinode to Pale Blue Eyes, but actually the song recalls that band’s Sunday Morning-styled hopefulness.
The album grows in strength too – it’s only nine tracks, 40 minutes, but the closing brace, Babes In The Woods and Happy & Free provide the most meat, both clock in just over six minutes, both take their time to build from quiet intros, but both are so sure of their direction, these are the epic symphonies to tie up the album. That’s not to say there’s filler-fluff ahead of them, but this is where the light and dreamy gets really serious, where the weight of a 30+ year career in indie pop shows not just its obvious charms but a certain clout.
Babes In The Woods feels like an instant classic – like the career of Galaxie and Luna shaved down to their most important moments, just enough of that, er, Velvet guitar fog to cloud over the tune’s finale.
And Happy & Free might be the coda, the closing-off of the album’s themes and statement/s as much as just the final song on the album.
Now, truly, it will be interesting to see what Wareham does next. Two great new recordings in less than a year, a film cameo, hints of more prose writing to come. I’ll be waiting. And watching. And listening. And there’s more than enough to hang onto here. He always knew where and when and how to place the hooks.