Dramarama


Cinema Verite...Plus

Dramarama - Cinema Verite...Plus ©1985 Rhino
1. Visiting The Zoo
2. Questions?
3. Scenario
4. Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)
5. Femme Fatale
6. Candidate
7. Some Crazy Dame
8. Etc.
9. Transformation
10. All I Want
11. Emerald City
12. Punishment (Original Unedited Demo)
13. Some Crazy Dame (demo)
14. Etc. (Early Solo Demo)
15. Want Her To Stay (Demo)
16. Pretend (demo)
17. You Drive Me
18. A Fine Example
19. If Looks Could Kill (demo)

Cinema Verite certainly stands as one of the most gripping and defining albums that I was exposed to during college, thanks to one of my roommates who was a certiable Dramarama fanatic. Listening to this album even years later still takes me back to those days and packs both a rock'n'roll and nostalgic punch.

Dramarama's inclusion in the 80's sound must demand that they stand next to the likes of Molly Ringwald flicks as they somehow tied in best with those teen movies of the decade. The band's signature song, "Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)", was a soundtrack favorite and the band's fascination with the big screen was a running theme for a long time. At the same time, the band was able to mine pop rock as well as a slightly dirty side of the rock world to create a sound that has lasted for fifteen years as of this writing. While this debut was marked with a few slightly weak songs, which unfortunately are the first two songs on the album, the build towards a sense of climax throughout the record is amazing. Simply put, by the time you reach the quiet and bittersweet "Emerald City", you'll have been put through one excellent ride. Best yet, the 1995 Rhino reissue includes eight bonus tracks that were culled from the fan-club only Trash Tapes as well as rare demo tracks.

Of the highlights, every song past the cover of David Bowie's "Candidate" is nothing but excellent. "Etc", "Transformation" and "All I Want" are a three song wallop that is going to grab you by the ears and force you to rock along. The songs aren't terribly difficult or even necessarily polished, but there is something gritty and real about them. As for the bonus tracks, the look into the band's formative stages is great for longtime Dramarama fans. The band obviously fiddled a lot with the songs before their final album versions. Considering the wealth of great music in the original Cinema Verite and the absolutely priceless bonus material, this release is truly just a wonderful monument to one of the 80's best bands.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2000

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Box Office Bomb...Plus

Dramarama - Box Office Bomb...Plus ©1987 Rhino
1. Steve & Edie
2. New Dream
3. Whenever I'm With Her
4. Spare Change
5. 400 Blows
6. Pumpin' (my Heart)
7. It's Still Warm
8. Out In The Rain
9. Baby Rhino's Eye
10. Worse Than Being By Myself
11. Modesty Personified
12. Hitchhiking
13. Private World
14. Last Cigarette (demo)
15. Would You Like (demo)
16. Worse Than Being By Myself (demo)
17. It's Still Warm (original Version)

The 1995 Rhino re-issue of the second Dramarama album includes more bonus tracks culled from the Trash Tapes, fanclub-only CD. Box Office Bomb was in itself a strong album, suffering a bit from second album blues, but overall containing a lot of great songs. The entire second side of the album (or from "It's Still Warm" to "Modesty Personified" on the disc) is just damned near perfect. Dramarama had a pop sensibility that made their songs memorable and instantly appealing, but also have a lasting quality that doesn't make them sound dated over a decade later. There was energy, there was personal nihilism and decay (just read the lyrics to "It's Still Warm" or "Worse Than Being By Myself"...only John Easdale could make pathos so musically addictive), and there was rock n roll fun. The extra bonus tracks show various forms of familiar songs such as "It's Still Warm", "Last Cigarette" and "Would You Like" (both of which appear on Wonderamaland) plus a couple unreleased tunes: "Private World" and "Hitchhiking". Though the band broke up over five years ago, I'm still enthralled by them.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/1998

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Stuck In Wonderama Land

Dramarama - Stuck In Wonderama Land ©1988 Chameleon
1. Wonderamaland
2. No Regrets
3. Fireplace, Pool & Air Conditioning
4. Lullabye
5. It's Hardly Enough
6. Last Cigarette
7. 70's TV
8. Try
9. Would You Like
10. I Wish I Was Your Mother
11. Pumps On A Hill
12. Stuck In Wonderamaland

By the time Dramarama had reeled out their third longplayer, band leader John Easdale had further pushed himself into the depths of pathos, offering a much more acoustic guitar based and brooding album. The sound that was slowly developing on Box Office Bomb seemed a bit more investigated here. The band hadn't entirely lost their penchant to simply rock out, but the mood becomes much more subdued throughout, relying on layers of acoustic guitar and Easdale's more pensive singing. To a degree the energy loss might be off-putting for some listeners, but any fan of the slower songs from the first two albums will easily find much to like on Stuck in Wonderamaland. As with the first two releases, the inherent catchiness is in abundance throughout. While the songs may not always be on the caliber of the ones on Cinema Verite, they are the type that become instantly memorable and hard to shake from your noggin well after the album has stopped playing.

The more splendid songs from the album are the anthemic "Last Cigarette", the strong build in "Wonderamaland" with great culmination of intensity, the entirely depressing duo of "Try" and "Would You Like" and the solid cover of "I Wish I Was Your Mother". "Try" and "Would You Like" are exceptionally well done numbers as they perfectly convey a complete sense of morose hopelessness. These two songs are also where the acoustic approach works wonders for the band.

Though I still prefer the first two releases to Stuck in Wonderamaland, this release does receive attention when I'm in a mood for a bit more pensive Dramarama.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2000

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Vinyl

Dramarama - Vinyl ©1991 Chameleon/Elektra
1. Until The Next Time
2. Haven't Got A Clue
3. What Are We Gonna Do?
4. Classic Rot
5. Memo From Turner
6. Train Going Backwards
7. I've Got Spies
8. In Quiet Rooms
9. Ain't It The Truth
10. Tiny Candles
11. (I'd Like To) Volunteer, Please

Four albums in and with some small lineup changes, Dramarama continued further down the spiral with Vinyl. Lacking some of the hooks and drive of the previous albums, Vinyl is easily my least favorite of the Dramarama studio releases. Much of the record sounds like the band going through the motions, taking the general sound from Stuck in Wonderamaland and watering it down. Whereas the previous albums had a powerful emotional punch behind them, much of Vinyl sounds insincere and relies just on rock standards instead.

Of course, this is not to say there aren't some great songs on here, regardless of the album's flaws. "What Are We Gonna Do" is an acoustic song that could have been an outtake from Stuck in Wonderamaland while "Classic Rot" is an energetic, piano-driven number that is about as aggressive as the band gets here. "Ain't it the Truth" is another energetic song that takes on the viewpoint of a socialite pretending that he can understand the plight of real world problems. "Tiny Candles" breaks out the wah pedal and is followed up by the tender piano and acoustic guitar ballad of "(I'd Like To) Volunteer, Please". As for the rest of the songs, they tend to be tepid filler at best. In this day and age of CDs, the skip button sees a lot of action when trying to sit through Vinyl. Dramarama has always had a bad habit of including songs that sound uninspired and are passed off as worthy of the rest of their music. And unfortunately, Vinyl is the one album that is half full of this sort of stuff. When a band has had such great material as they did on their first three albums, it's hard to accept an album that is as lacking in good songs as this one is. Probably worth a listen for the aforementioned good songs if you can find it used for cheap enough, but otherwise Vinyl should be the last Dramarama album you worry about getting.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2000

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Hi-Fi Sci-Fi

Dramarama - Hi-Fi Sci-Fi ©1993 Chameleon/Elektra
1. Introduction/Hey Betty
2. Work For Food
3. Shadowless Heart
4. Swallowed Your Cure
5. Don't Feel Like Doing Drugs
6. Where's The Manual
7. Senseless Fun
8. Bad Seed
9. Incredible
10. Prayer
11. Right On Baby, Baby
12. Late Night Phone Call
13. Double Secret Bonus Tracks

In what turned out to be the final Dramarama release, the band went out with one of their strongest releases of their career. Hi-Fi Sci-Fi brought together all the elements that made the band so enduring and exciting over the years, from the kitsch of pin-up girl worship ("Hey Betty") to neo-autobiographical reflections on their own difficult career ("Work for Food") to a very touching love affirmation ("Incredible"). The album is full of well developed mood and the songs all enhance John Easdale's lyrics very nicely. Dramarama seemed to have cast aside some of the uncertainty of Vinyl for Hi-Fi Sci-Fi as these songs come across as better written, arranged and performed. Perhaps the band had an inkling that their time together was winding down and why not just leave on a high note?

Much of the first half of the album is introspective and very moody. "Where's the Manual" could read as a plea many distraught people might share. "Senseless Fun" incorporates cello over the acoustic guitar for a very lush feel. "Right On Baby Baby" uses a piano while other songs are heavily based on acoustic matched with electric. The sequence of tracks works very well. From the waterfalls of drums to start out the high adrenaline frenzy of "Hey Betty" to the nearly weeping "Late Night Phone Call", the band sustains moods and takes the listener through an entire plethora of emotions. Only "Bad Seed" and "Prayer" seem to drop off the radar of interest.

Lyrically, Easdale appears to autobiographical in many areas. "Don't Feel Like Doing Drugs", while perhaps a bit fanciful, details the process of going clean and reflecting upon some of the affects of the drug. Moreover, the upbeat nature of the song helps propel along Easdale's thoughts. The aforementioned "Incredible" is a touching number. Throughout the album, one gets the feeling that Easdale is being brutally honest with his lyrics and that sort of introspection and self-awareness is pretty unusual in rock music.

Still one of my all time favorites for pure rock music, Hi-Fi Sci-Fi is a wonderful album of a band going out in style. Sadly, much of their career seemed to be downplayed after their original 1985 hit, "Anything Anything (I'll Give You)", yet the band continually offered great music on each studio album. Do yourself a favor and explore this band and be sure not to skip this record for any reason whatsoever.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2000

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The Best Of Dramarama

Dramarama - The Best Of Dramarama ©1996 Elektra
1. Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)
2. Scenario
3. Emerald City
4. Steve & Edie
5. It's Still Warm
6. Wonderamaland
7. No Regrets
8. Last Cigarette
9. Haven't Got A Clue
10. What Are We Gonna Do?
11. Train Going Backwards
12. Classic Rot
13. Work For Food
14. Incredible
15. Senseless Fun
16. 7 Minutes (more Or Less)
17. Sincerely
18. Goin' Blind

Dramarama was certainly never a lucky band. After beginning their career with the cult hit "Anything Anything (I'll Give You)", the band spent years trying their darnedest to break back through to a rather indifferent mainstream audience. Instead, a cult audience was formed and years after their breakup, there are still a few of us who can identify one another as hardcore Dramarama fans. We're the ones with all the studio albums, the Bent Backed Tulips side project release and the luckiest even have the rare The Trash Tapes. For those who haven't gotten around to investigating this excellent band, The Best of Dramarama exists to get you on the same page as those of us who understand. You, too, can be part of this secret underground society.

Going through their career chronologically, this compilation begins with the song that started it all: "Anything Anything (I'll Give You)". Each of the studio albums receive pretty much the same amount of attention, though I would have preferred a slightly different track listing. Naturally, hardcore fans such as myself could easily make our own CD compilation as this band did write a wealth of excellent songs. As the informative liner notes explained, bassist Chris Carter immediately found kinship with singer and songwriter John Easdale due to the latter's ability to write songs. Carter sums it up well by saying, "You can have a great band, great players and good looks, but if you don't have songs, what's the point?" But needless to say, none of the members of Dramarama were slouches at their instruments. Easdale is perhaps a bit of an acquired taste as his vocals border on being whiny, but with a couple listens, it's not noticeable.

The chronological ordering of the songs does show the band's progression from a fairly wide eyed, enthusiastic band to a somewhat disillusioned and distanced group. "Work for Food" from Hi-Fi Sci-Fi, the band's last studio album, is a great, tongue in cheek look at a one hit wonder pop star living in the streets, clinging to various memorabilia of a past time. Considering Dramarama's main fame and subsequent toiling in near obscurity afterwards came from one of their earliest singles, the song holds a lot of unique perspective. Easdale's lyrics read like a manual of his life, placing his emotions firmly on his sleeve and baring it for the world. "It's Still Warm" is an oblique look at the band's stay in Los Angeles in the 80s. However, "Incredible" is a touching and fuzzy love song, so Easdale is capable of more than simply being disgruntled with pop art life.

Dramarama's entire career may have been spent in near-obscurity, but that doesn't excuse any fan of rock music for not discovering them after the fact. While the band's roots may lie in a bit of the old glitter rock from the 70s as well as a healthy dose of the Beatles, there was also a timeless quality that transcends mainstream and alternative dross. Your mission, and you better accept it at risk of furthering your good taste in music, is to track down some Dramarama. This is required music for rock fans.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2000

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