Music

Review: Dean Wareham Has the Last Word

Today sees the release of Dean Wareham’s solo LP I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of LA. Recorded last November at Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, CA, Wareham, founder of both Galaxie 500 and Luna, cites The Man in the Red Coat as his inspiration, a book about “dandies, drug addicts, artists and writers in belle epoque France and England.” I was very excited to give this a listen, as Galaxie 500 is in the indie pantheon, a godfather of dream pop, featured prominently in the majority of my regular playlists.

The first line from the first track of the album holds the title lyric. As soon as you start it, you immediately settle in to the charming weariness of Wareham’s voice. The structure of the track is almost ballad-like, speaking to the inspiration Wareham noted, the form of a bygone era, though the lyrics betray the inevitable return to the contemporary malaise of the modern world. I hear shades of Leonard Cohen already in this release. Which I obviously welcome!

Wareham’s cover of the late Scott Walker’s “Duchess” is totally dreamy, with his beachy-breezy slide guitar and a super delicate vocal approach—a departure from Walker’s famous 60s baritone. (Side note: the Walker version better be played at my funeral. Like, when I’m being carried out by my four extremely beautiful and buff himbo pallbearers. Promise me.)

In “As Much as It was Worth,” Wareham’s pulls out his very best, very dreamiest troubadour stops. The track reads like a western noir, with plenty of musical and lyrical anaphora, drifting between retro and psychedelic phrasing. The track’s brevity compounds the anachronistic quality of the whole LP, starting and ending as though it were a living thing only allowed life for one day.

My favorite track on the album has to be “The Last Word.” This song has an undeniable GROOVE, and at the risk of sounding like a boomer, I try not to use the word “groove” lightly. The song opens with the line, “I fell in love with a communist cat / I freed him yeah / he drove me mad // Isn’t it wonderful, isn’t it nice? / Labor and capital, value and price.” The brief chorus, sung in unison with wife Britta Phillips, soars in broader strokes—dreamy refrains that steer momentarily away from its punchier, more pointed verses.

This LP walks a fine line between glibness and a dreamy sort of ineptitude. It’s the sort of human ineptitude found everywhere, especially now, when we’re all collectively experiencing a lack of agency and capability to change, well, everything. Its quasi-political approach to the modern world intentionally dissipates in the reverb of his jangly guitar swells and the elegance of Wareham’s aging voice. Listening to this album is listening to a whole indie rock tradition, a whole history.

I always find it incredibly moving to hear the natural changes in artists over spans of time: the way their voices evolve, the new ways they render tension—the kind of tension built over a lifetime. There’s an undercurrent of anxiety throughout the album, but that tension is never at the forefront. It’s always hidden in the subtext of the lyrics’ playful free association.

“The entire dream-pop genre might owe its existence to Dean Wareham.”

Stereogum
Fun fact: Did you know Britta Phillips was the singing voice for the title character of the 1980s animated series Jem? That straight up blew my mind.

When asked what he would say to the mayor of L.A., Wareheim responds, “It’s gonna happen…But the answer is right there too—I have nothing to say.”

You can listen to the album on most streaming platforms, and you’ll find the vinyl on his website, HERE.

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