The context: When he disbanded the twee post-punk trio Galaxie 500 via a phone call, Dean Wareham demonstrated a cruel command of cool. A year later, he assembled Luna—the most coolly detached band of the century's most coolly detached decade—with Feelies drummer Stanley Demeski and Chills bassist Justin Harwood. Second guitarist Sean Eden was added for 1994's Bewitched, considered by many to be Luna's high water mark, though Wareham perhaps best exhibited his neo-noirish sensibility on the follow-up, Penthouse.
The greatness: In the mid-'90s, Quentin Tarantino gave classic film-noir conventions a postmodern spin, finding that the alienation of post-war America connected nicely with the ironic distance of the post-Gulf War generation. On Penthouse, Wareham adopts a noir-inspired persona reminiscent of Elliott Gould's Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye; he's a man out of time, a star-crossed loser who still says stuff (in the opening track, "Chinatown") like "chasing girlies" and "go home earlys," without a trace of irony. While most of Luna's alt-rock peers were cranking up the distortion and Black Sabbath riffs, Luna's musical approach was suitably old-fashioned, with languid, twangy guitars—think "Peter Gunn" on downers—and a fluid, almost jazzy rhythm section scoring Wareham's late-night tales of mystery. Luna was clearly one cool package, though Wareham's canny songwriting keeps Penthouse from being an empty exercise in style. Songs like "Moon Palace" and "Lost In Space" are the musical equivalent of Penthouse's cover—elusive, elegant, lonely, cosmopolitan, and hauntingly pretty.
Defining song: Wareham didn't have much range as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist—listening to "Chinatown" is equivalent to hearing the man's entire catalog. Of course, Wareham's knack for crafting richly seductive music within narrow confines means "Chinatown" probably won't be the only song newcomers to Luna will want to hear.