BY JOHN SCHACHT
No surprise that Dean Wareham would, on his first official solo record, take inspiration from all manner of literary media – films, poems, novels and recent headlines among them. The Galaxie 500 and Luna frontman has a pretty diverse portfolio, after all: Wareham’s penned that rarest of animals, a well-written rock biography, Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance; acted in several films (and a Law & Order episode) and soundtracked or scored several more; and most recently toured Andy Warhol’s “Screen Tests” to a new LP of music inspired by the pop icon’s “moving portraits.”
Real renaissance dude, you know?
So for Emancipated Hearts’ six tracks (two more bonus tracks are available via various outlets), Wareham took the inspiration idea one step further by using various titles or phrases to kick-start his muse, incorporating them either as the first lines or titles for these songs. Thus, opening single “Love Is Colder than Death” takes its name from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1969 debut film of the same name —though the song is a lot more pleasurable than the film. The shuffling country lope of the tempo almost makes it seem like a kid’s tune — only if the Grimms had collaborated with Sartre. Wareham even looked to children’s nonsense poetry for the line “cats and mices/have their vices,” employing it to subtly undercut the dark journey the rest of the narrative implies, while Gillian Rivers’ tremolo violin-strokes similarly undercut the song’s sunny, guitar jangle exterior.
On the title track, the guitar figures recall a sitar, giving the track a droning, Eastern quality while Wareham, inspired by Julian Assange and George Orwell, intones over and over, “he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone, beyond recall.” Britta Phillips, here in bass-playing/back-up vox role only, counterpoints Wareham’s vocals while the song gradually builds in intensity before Wareham breaks into, of all things, the ‘na-na-nas’ of “Little Drummer Man.” (Note: Does anyone use those better? Re-spin “Friendly Advices” off of Luna’s gem Bewitched for your answer.)
A similar Middle Eastern vibe pervades both “The Deadliest Day Since the Invasion Began” and “The Ticking Is the Bomb,” the latter title taken from the second memoir by playwright and poet Nick Flynn. The former’s title is torn from Iraq War headlines, and the EP-highlight track opens with piano over Spector-worthy drumbeats and bass, as Wareham – who’s known how to build droning grooves since taking his cue from the Velvet Underground in Galaxie 500 – sings the line over and over, mimicking the numbing newspaper headlines from the time.
Using another loping beat that culminates in grand choruses, “The Longest Bridges In The World” comes from a poem by Bertolt Brecht (“Late Lamented Fame Of The Giant City Of New York”) and anticipates Wareham’s recent move to Los Angeles —a town Brecht despised. The EP’s one cover, a gentle laid-back turn on the Incredible String Band’s “Air,” closes out the official tracklist.
As for the bonus tracks, a remix of the title track by My Robot Friend strips away much of the instrumentation to juxtapose Rivers’ violin and the vocals with a processed dance beat, and a wistful acoustic guitar-and-celeste number “Living Too Close to the Ground” is available via iTunes. Both are pleasant, though neither feels essential.
Overall, the EP – which would earn a higher grade if there were simply more of it — captures a contemplative Wareham midway between Luna’s driving pulse and the darker fare on Dean & Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. By releasing it as a solo EP, Wareham doesn’t have to share the spotlight with, let’s face it, his weaker songwriter half. And that’s maybe this record’s big takeaway – wherever he gets inspiration from, it works, and it works best when Wareham’s got his hands on the songwriting wheel.
DOWNLOAD: “Love Is Colder Than Death” “Emancipated Hearts” “The Ticking Is the Bomb”