I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A. is Kiwi-American musician Dean Wareham’s second or third solo album, depending on whether you include 2018’s Dean Wareham Vs. Cheval Sombre (with New York singer/songwriter Cheval Sombre) after his 2014 self-titled debut. Wareham rightly has a hardcore following, with an impressive discography as part of bands/projects Galaxie 500, Luna and Dean & Britta; Galaxie 500’s 1989 album On Fire is considered a masterpiece by those in the know.
The songs on I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A. are decidedly literate, and should spark an attentive listener’s imagination due to the engaging narratives. At least three of the songs are inspired by books or essays; “The Past Is Our Plaything” takes the idea expressed in Julian Barnes’ 2019 book The Man in the Red Coat that “the past is the present’s toy and plaything, gratifyingly unable to answer back” – in other words, history is as we make it. The track is a graceful reverie about the past, with a subtle sense of playfulness in “making things up as we go”.
“As Much as It Was Worth” was apparently written after reading an essay by Zadie Smith, “Joy” (The New York Review of Books, 10 January 2013). Smith quotes Julian Barnes, or in fact a friend of his, with the phrase “it hurts just as much as it is worth” from a letter of condolence. In her essay, Smith suggests if humans were sane and reasonable they would choose pleasure over joy (as pleasure can be easily replaced whereas joy is a “human madness”). Wareham’s song considers this in respect of a lost love, and the recording’s sweet and gentle nature suggests there’s at least some bittersweet pleasure in remembering and reciting the loss itself.
Also inspired by other work is “Red Hollywood”, which apparently Wareham wrote after reading a book about the Hollywood communist blacklist and watching a documentary, Red Hollywood. Minimalist and swamped in echo, the track evokes a jumpy, secretive time, about being tired of living in the shadows.
Politics also rear their ugly head on “Why are we in Vietnam?”, a fuzzy meditation which slowly builds in intensity and is reminiscent of Neil Young via Galaxie 500, and on the majestic “The Corridors of Power”. There’s an incidental connection to politics on “The Last Word”, a song about the life of Eleanor Marx, youngest daughter of German political and economics theorist Karl Marx. Wareham sings mostly from Eleanor’s perspective on finding out that her long-time partner has secretly married someone else, beginning with the memorable lines “I fell in love with a Communist cad”, and going on to wonder about labour and capital, value and price.
The original lyrics and musical hooks often provide an unexpected singalong quality to the album given the subject matter. “Cashing In”, a wry look at being a musician, has the amusing refrain of “I’m not selling out/I’m cashing in”. This is similarly the case for the exquisite “Robin & Richard”, which airily recites that “my pleasures are plenty/my troubles are too”. The cover of Lazy Smoke’s “Under Skys” (from 1968 album Corridor of Faces) features producer Jason Quever on guitar, organ, cello and drums, and is distinguished by its catchy dreamy chorus. The second cover successfully interprets Scott Walker’s “Duchess” (from 1969 album Scott 4) with a Velvet Underground sensibility
Quever previously worked with Wareham on his 2013 EP Emancipated Hearts and has produced a great sounding record. Wareham’s elegant guitar is a standout, which is complimented by expert playing from partner in crime Britta Phillips (bass, keyboards, vocals and additional production) and Roger Brogan (drums). Taking everything into account – interesting lyrics, charming melodies, and great delivery – this album comes highly recommended.
I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A is available on vinyl (the clear red edition of 500 now sold out), CD and download.
Label: Double Feature Records
Release Date: 15 OCT 2021