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Luna - Rendezvous

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Artist: Luna

Album: Rendezvous

Label: Jetset

Review date: Nov. 4, 2004

It should come as no surprise that Rendezvous, Luna’s seventh and final studio album, varies little from their past few efforts. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Dean Wareham knows what he does best, and he’s clearly not afraid to stick to a winning formula. Wareham’s tendency to stay in his comfort zone, however, presents a paradox that finds its fullest expression on Rendezvous: The very nonchalance and sense of effortlessness that gives the album such charm simultaneously threatens to render it vapid and disposable. Whereas Luna’s previous outing, Romantica exuded the calm satisfaction of a post-coital cigarette, Rendevous feels more akin to an opium-clouded haze. It’s undeniably pleasurable, but dangerously close to being superficial and meaningless.

Much of Rendezvous makes an entirely convincing case for Wareham’s ability to fashion something improbably magical out of what seem to be rather lightweight elements. “The Owl and the Pussycat,” an adaptation of Edward Lear’s poem of the same name is a case in point; the lyrics are childish and silly, the melody and arrangement understated and reserved, and the vocal delivery little more than a whisper. As on the comparably gentle “Cindy Tastes of Barbecue” and “Buffalo Boots,” however, a quiet gracefulness prevents a descent into of decadent meaninglessness. No matter how tossed-off or insubstantial the lyrics to these songs might be, they’re transcended by the style, the calm, and the effortlessness that have become Luna’s trademark.

These very strengths, however, threaten to turn into weaknesses on some of Rendezvous’s less successful tracks. The nonsensical lists of rhymes deployed on “Star-Spangled Man” and “Motel Bambi” come off as more annoying than amusing or whimsical, and the musical accompaniment feels more formulaic than effortless. Where then, can one draw the line between the sense of ease that sustains the album’s best tracks and the sense of disregard and indifference that hampers its weakest? Perhaps it’s a distinction best left to individual taste or gut-feeling, but it may also have something to do with the fragility of Wareham’s favored formulae; they may succeed to a point, but used once too often, they threaten to degenerate into self-parody and superficiality. Guitarist Sean Eden’s two contributions to the album, “Broken Chair” and “Still at Home,” serve as welcome counterweights to Wareham’s compositions: while they may not be as polished or assured, they sound a note of melancholy that gives Rendezvous a much-needed sense of depth.

While it may be marred by imperfections, Rendezvous offers too much beauty and artistry to be written off as the last-ditch effort of a band in decline. On the contrary, it serves as an ample conclusion to what has been, over a 12-year stretch, a remarkably successful career. Luna’s tried-and-true modus operandi, however, does show some signs of wear, and the pitfalls of self-repetition and formula clearly present the band with a formidable challenge. It may well be that Luna has made the right decision by choosing to throw in the towel at this point; they’ve gone out relatively strong and have left behind plenty that they can be proud of.

By Michael Cramer

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