Pop: Over the moon about an unlucky four-piece

Their record company has just dropped Luna after declaring their latest CD `commercially unviable'. But it is well worth hearing. By Kevin Harley

Kevin Harley
Thursday 15 April 1999 23:02

GOOD LUCK seems to elude Luna. Formed by Dean Wareham when he deserted the gorgeous Galaxie 500 in 1991, the New York four-piece have spread their vapour trails of spiky-sweet guitar pop and Velvets-styled sonic fidgeting across five albums already. Even so, they're still best known for their insistent cover version of Serge Gainsbourg's "Bonnie and Clyde", released back in 1995.

A tale of woe spins out from another Luna cover version. Like alchemists, they've turned the paunchy rock squeal of Guns'n'Roses' "Sweet Child O'Mine" into a lightly sozzled dance track kept standing by a big drum.

Luna recorded it for a B-side, but their US label, Elektra, insisted that they put it on their new, fifth album, Days of Our Nights.

"Now they're not even putting our album out," Wareham spits. "Dropped, man! They said it's `not commercially viable'. We wanted out of Elektra a while ago, partly because of this mountain of fake debt that they slapped on us. And it is fake! But the timing is bad because we'd serviced the album to the press."

It isn't Wareham's first acrimonious break-up, given that his split from Galaxie 500 was not exactly amicable. These days he communicates only by fax with his former colleagues Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang.

"They think I ruined their lives because of ego and money," he sneers, before adding wistfully: "It may have been ego. It certainly wasn't money."

Despite jokily basing their latest album's title on a soap opera, Luna's tensions seem to stay in the music. Their slow-burning, quintessentially New York brand of quiet melodrama fine-tunes that seductive, haunting clash between nimble surfaces and vivid instrumentation. Even a lucid wisp of a song such as "Seven Steps to Satan" cloaks the unholy coupling of a wah guitar with a digital Talkbox. Elsewhere, a choir haunts Wareham's ghostly croon thanks to the bassist, multi-instrumentalist and ex-Chills man Justin Harwood.

"Justin played the choir with his finger," Dean deadpans. "It's a sample."

Likewise, poking into Wareham's opaque lyrics can be like finding acid in your ice-cream. What sound like prisms for benevolent and gauche fragments - a quote from a Dean Martin biography, a bit of trucker-speak, a nod to the adolescent Seventies comic-strip darlings Betty and Veronica, in "The Rustler" - often lead into tales of stalking, crazy cults, nervous breakdowns and pancake houses. Using Wareham's words, they're "softly spoken tigers". Beautiful, but prone to such casually catty swipes as "my friends all make me sick". "Superfreaky Memories", the first single, is exemplary: "The title comes from a letter this killer got from his girlfriend when he was in jail for a killing spree in Utah in the 1970s. He wanted to be executed and he wanted her to die too, but she didn't. I hope she doesn't come after us!"

It isn't much of a worry, given Luna's bittersweet position as, in the words of Rolling Stone, "the best band in the world that no one has ever heard of".

Still, Wareham's quirky lyrics do boast a bundle of nascent neuroses. When his band mate Sean Eden needles him about being a hypochondriac, you wonder whether Woody Allen could have turned out like Wareham, had he nurtured a Lou Reed fixation and a smoulder to match. "I am not a hypochondriac," Wareham says, tetchily: "I just don't like being near sick people when we're out on tour."

His paranoia is understandable, given the misfortunes heaped on his band. Take their extracurricular money-spinners. Scoring a TV commercial and covering Donovan's "Season of the Witch" for the film I Shot Andy Warhol went fine. But they also scored films destined for bargain-bin oblivion: Mr Jealousy, anyone? Thursday? "That was frustrating," Eden snorts, "because we did some good music. I thought Thursday would be cool because it had Mickey Rourke in it. It was terrible!"

Still, they could release "Sweet Child O'Mine," once they get a US label. That sold copies, the first time round. "We would need to hurry," groans Wareham, "because Sheryl Crow is doing it for a movie sound-track. People would think we copied her."

Somehow, you suspect that the terminally undervalued Luna deserve better than that.

`Days of Our Nights' is out on Beggars Banquet on 4 May; the single `Superfreaky Memories' is out now

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