Dramarama – Cinéma Vérité

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

A California band by way of New Jersey, Dramarama is another of those great lost bands that never achieved the success they should have. True students of rock and of American culture, Dramarama wrote great songs, had the best guest musicians, played expertly curated covers, and combined romanticism, pop, art, and style in a way that guaranteed being passed over by the record buying public. There is a lot to say about Dramarama, and I have four albums of theirs to get through, so I’m going to take this piece by piece. John Easdale and Mark Englert grew up on the same street in Wayne, New Jersey; they went to the same high school as Chris Carter. Carter ended up buying and running a record store in town, where Easdale started hanging out. The three began to play music, adding Pete Wood (also a high school classmate, apparently) on guitar and a drummer in 1982, and they released their first single. By 1984, drummer Jesse [Farbman] had joined as had keyboardist Theo Ellenis; the band released a self-funded EP, which led to French label New Rose offering the band a contract. It was New Rose that first released Cinéma Vérité in 1985. Supposedly attracted by the cover art (more on that later), KROQ disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer in Los Angeles started playing “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You),” and he continued to do so relentlessly. Soon, the band was in the unusual position of having a regional hit in a major market (and in one of the two hearts of the U.S. music business), but had no (American) label or manager. The debut album was then released in the U.S. on Question Mark Records and then re-released by Chameleon that same year.

What I Think of This Album

Probably no other band in 1985 was celebrating Warholia to the extent that they used a Gerard Malanga photograph of Edie Sedgewick as their cover art. Dramarama was proud of their influences, however, and confidently embraced them. Hence, the Velvet Underground cover *and* the Bowie cover on the debut (back-to-back, no less); these tracks implicitly validate the band’s glammy take on doomed romantics and other admirable losers.

To that end, John Easdale does a decent Lou Reed impression, adding a bit more emotion than perhaps Lou would have been cool with on “Femme Fatale.” The piano seems superfluous and the percussion isn’t right, but everything else about it is great. I am admittedly not familiar with the original of “Candidate,” but I can tell you that Dramarama dials up the drama, with slow burn atmospherics that gradually coalesce into a deranged psychedelic juggernaut. I can’t say I love the song, but I love how the band handles it.

Nonetheless, the originals are where the band really comes alive. “Visiting the Zoo” sounds a bit like Mott the Hoople, particularly via the intro and the outro. In between, Easdale preens and sneers with a complete lack of guile, though in truth he knew exactly what he was doing. He powers his way through the hard-boiled “Questions,” coming off – somehow – as sardonic, sincere, resigned, and anguished all at the same time, as the guitars smear and grind with aplomb. “Scenario” is, as Easdale admits, pure Psychedelic Furs, and no less wonderful for it. With a great vocal and some fantastic lyrics, plus fine work from Mark Englert (who adopted the moniker “Mr. E Boy” (sigh)) and Peter Wood, and glittery touches from Theo Ellenis on keyboards, this is an excellent song that helped prove the young band was for real.

Also critical in that regard, of course, was “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You).” Reportedly the most requested song in KROQ history, “Anything, Anything” is a blistering depiction of a young married couple’s disintegration, propelled by a relentless beat, a nagging lead guitar riff, and Easdale’s frantic, desperate vocals. I’m not in love with “Some Crazy Dame,” but it’s not terrible, and Dramarama delivers the song with passion and panache. “Etc.” is considerably stronger, with a stuttering rhythm and care taken to integrate the keyboards with the guitars. The vocal melody of “Transformation” honestly reminds me of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer”; once I get past that, this is a decent song with an effectively moody solo.

The highlight of the second half of the album, though, is “All I Want.” This sounds like the New York Dolls with more grit and less glam – bare bones, tough, rowdy, and a lot of fun. Somehow “Emerald City” ended up on the greatest hits (to be discussed later), and I can’t stand this song. Easdale’s voice is too high, the melody is simple and bland, and the arrangement lacks appeal.

Between the two covers and the fact that another four of these songs had already been released on the Comedy EP one year prior, it appears that the band was short on material. Given that follow-up Box Office Bomb suffered from mostly weak material, maybe Dramarama would have been better served by waiting until they could have packaged the best of both releases as their debut. In any event, this is a pretty good record as is.

The Best Thing About This Album

I like the pop hooks of “Scenario.”

Release Date

November, 1985

The Cover Art

The color scheme is great. The font for the band name is great. The filmstrip design is great.​ The album title is a little small and difficult to read.

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