It’s taken a long old time, Dean. After over 25 years making music, being the creative force behind Galaxie 500, Luna and Dean & Britta, the legend (full disclosure: I love this guy, regard him as one of the true greats, a total hero) that is Dean Wareham has finally released a solo (mini) album under his own name.
Obviously Emancipated Hearts, released on his spiritual home of Sonic Cathedral, is great but I have to maintain a critical stance rather than just pop a nine out of ten rating on it and tell you to go and buy/listen…so I guess I’ll have to write a little bit more, huh? So here we have six songs recorded by Jason Quever of Papercuts, with Wareham’s wife Britta Phillips on bass (as she has been since the latter days of Luna) and Gillian Rivers on violin. What’s interesting, though, is the sound of Emancipated Hearts; more openly 60s-influenced than ever before, Wareham has written a bunch of songs that sound like The Velvet Underground, the Incredible String Band (there’s even a cover of ISB’s ‘Air’ here) and various folk bands from that period. He’s also turned back the clock to about 1989 – there’s little evidence of his Luna sound here, this is more Galaxie 500 being abandoned in the English countryside on a miserable day. Wareham’s trademark wry humour is evident throughout, but there’s a downbeat vibe that seems to come from recent political change and upheaval – and also literary touchstones – with songs influenced variously by Fassbinder, Betjeman, Julian Assange, George Orwell and the American writers Ben Lerner and Nick Flynn.
Opener ‘Love Is Colder Than Death’ has a sing-song, almost nursery rhyme, quality (“cats and mices have their vices, and so do I” go the lyrics) as Wareham plays with languid guitar lines around shivering violin while backing vocals echo choir-like in the background. It appears to be a song about travelling (to somewhere dark) before returning happy; whether that’s an emotional or physical journey is up for debate, but it certainly ends more cheery than it starts. ‘Emancipated Hearts’ is all White Light, White Heat circular grooves; Wareham plays a hypnotic, trippy riff around a scraping John Cale violin point before the song, curiously, drifts off into a ‘Little Drummer Boy’ coda as Wareham sings “he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone”.
The lovely echoed drums and piano chords of ‘The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began’ is one of the best moments here, incredibly downbeat 60s psych folk, like looking back on Galaxie 500 song ‘Snowstorm’ and deciding it wasn’t sad enough. ‘The Longest Bridges In the World’ is a look at Wareham’s new home of Los Angeles and documents the worry of moving somewhere new, but it somehow feels out of place – the jauntier pace seem a little gauche against what’s come before, like it should be a part of another, more upbeat, record. ‘The Ticking of the Bomb’ is much better, laden with nods to a classic Wareham song ‘When Will You Come Home’; simple guitar lines and his flat, yet brilliant, delivery spreading warmth through its every note. The final cover of Incredible String Band’s ‘Air’ seems almost unnecessary but it’s rendered faithfully and tenderly, and so avoids being an afterthought…but then Wareham’s always had an ear for a great cover version.
There’s rarely a moment over the past 25 years where Dean Wareham’s failed to deliver an album that’s at least three-quarters brilliant, and Emancipated Hearts doesn’t change that record. Class is permanent.