Luna: The Best of Luna
Luna: The Best of Luna
Is it quixotic to cavil about album sequencing in the age of the download? Probably, but if albums are worth anything these days, attention to structure should be one of the reasons why. If you’re going to pay $17 for a physical object, or $10 for its MP3s, why not expect it be worth every minute of the time it offers you?
Take The Best of Luna, chosen and sequenced by the swoon-worthy and now-defunct New York dream rockers’ leader, singer/guitarist Dean Wareham. (It’s been released simultaneously with the DVD of Tell Me Do You Miss Me, an appropriately languid documentary about the band’s final tour in 2004.) Luna might have been the most consistent rock band of the ’90s, which has led some to complain about its music having a certain . . . sameyness. But even the band’s lesser albums are crafted with a careful grasp of dynamics, designed to hold a listener’s rapt attention even in the quiet moments. Puzzingly though, Best opens with “Moon Palace,” one of the few ordinary tracks from the band’s 1995 masterwork, Penthouse. It kicks off a six-song run with a narcoleptic mood so single-minded that it will turn off anyone who hasn’t already loved Luna for years.
Only with track seven, “Slide,” which led the band’s 1992 debut and contains one of rock’s great opening lines—“You can never give the finger to the blind”—does Best really kick into gear. There are plenty of peaks from there on out, but the gaping lull up front mars the compilation. So does the odd decision to leave out “Black Postcards,” from 2002’s Romantica, a crisp but disgruntled song that’s the centerpiece of the documentary.
The cover of Fatboy Slim’s The Greatest Hits: Why Try Harder is less disgruntled than just plain sad. It’s an out-of-focus shot of Christopher Walken from the video of “Weapon of Choice,” a song that epitomized the ground-out hackwork Norman Cook stumbled into after realizing he either had to clone 1998’s instantly ubiquitous “Rockafeller Skank” or transcend it altogether. 2000’s Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars tried doing both, but 2004’s Palookaville was the aural equivalent of a forced grin from the beleaguered host of a party that no one’s enjoying. It wasn’t hard to suspect that maybe, like many of the late-’90s more misguided ventures, capital or otherwise, Cook was best forgotten for the time being.
But like a lot of greatest hits collections, the sequencing of Why Try Harder reconceives Cook as a pop artist rather than a dance producer, and it’s pretty becoming to hear his brilliantly stupid riffs boiled down to three or four minutes and shot out like paint-gun pellets instead of stretched out to six or seven and made to flow in a DJ mix. The two best are singles never rereleased on any of his albums: “Everybody Loves a Carnival,” a samba-fied remix of his debut album’s “Everybody Needs a 303,” and “Sho’ Nuff,” a B-side that hangs with any of the actual hits. Whatever your feelings on Cook’s brief moment of cultural omnipresence, you’d have to hate fun entirely to dismiss the easy thrills of Why Try Harder.