Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Dean Wareham is a Harvard man who entranced a cult as the soft-voiced leader of the late-'80s Velvet Underground tribute band Galaxie 500. Not that they did many covers--Wareham could always write. Sonically, however, they were pure Pale Blue Eyes, and when Wareham gathered jangly refugees from the Chills and Feelies into a new group called Luna in 1992, the broadening, while real, was marginal. But on Luna's 1995 Penthouse and now Pup Tent (Elektra), his always enjoyable melodies filled out gorgeously. Shored up by cushy guitar drones that were avant 30 years ago but sound like home now, Wareham murmurs and drawls his casually literate lyrics with intelligence to spare. Its bemused, slightly scruffy sophistication untainted by cocktail retro, this is dinner music for the rock and roll age. Pass the extra-virgin olive oil, please.

Just as listenable as Luna is Arto Lindsay, the Brazilian-raised downtown New York mainstay who long ago invented the guitar-noise concept known onomatopoiecally as skronk. As coleader of the Ambitious Lovers, Linday moved on to something sweeter and sexier--all the airy, rhythmically intricate pop music subsumed under the heading bossa nova. Last year's O Corpo Sutil/The Subtle Body played the style relatively straight--Lindsay's lyrics were no artier than those of his hero, Caetano Veloso. On the even better new Mundo Civilizado (Bar/None), he mixes in drum-and-bass and Brazilian percussion and covers Prince and Al Green as he calmly yet erotically bridges the barrier between English and Portugese.

Less consistently, an honor roll of U.S.-U.K. rockers headed by David Byrne and the Beastie Boys' Money Mark work a fusion on Brazilian pop on the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Rio (Antilles). Those who want to sample the original can check Nova Bossa: Red Hot on Verve (Verve).

Playboy, June 1997

May 1997 July 1997