Cinerama – This Is Cinerama

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Well, I said elsewhere that I wasn’t going to keep both this album and Va Va Voom, but fuck it. Call it indulgence. It is typically perverse that roughly two years after the release of debut Va Va Voom, but just weeks after second album Disco Volante, Cinerama released this collection of early singles. The title is a clever joke, btw. Cinerama was a pre-IMAX immersive process (three projectors used simultaneously on one giant screen); This Is Cinerama was a documentary from 1952 intended to promote the new system.

What I Think of This Album

Even discounting the overlap with Va Va Voom, this is a very strong collection. The songs “Kerry Kerry,” “Au Pair,” “Love” and “Dance, Girl, Dance” are all repeats. There is also a remixed version of “Ears,” cheekily jejune and retro.

The vaguely flamenco guitar strum of “7x” is what you first notice, but then Gedge’s lyrics take center stage:  “And I don’t want to seem unreasonable / But I’d just like to know when / You are going to speak to me again” and “Because now / I’m feeling totally perplexed / What did I do wrong? / Well, how do I work out what comes next? / Do I play along?” “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” has a sort of spy guitar sound, which plays nicely with the orchestration. Meanwhile, “Model Spy” relies on a wah wah effect, with spy keyboards instead.

“Crusoe” is goddamn gorgeous, with timpani and strings, and full of devastating lines like “You can’t get a phone call like that and not tell me / You can’t lie with him in our bed and not smell me.” There is a sad ruefulness to weepy “King’s Cross”:  “I thought that you and me / Were never meant to be /  Now why would I think that?” with some great harmonies from Sally Murrell at the end. The cover of the Smiths’ “London” I can take or leave.

Given the timing of these singles, it is not surprising that the list of supporting players overlaps considerably with that of the debut:  Marty Willson-Piper (the Church); Dare Mason (producer of the Church and Animals That Swim); Derek Crabtree and Anthony Coote (Animals That Swim), as well as Julia Palmer (Billy Bragg) and Rachel Davies (Animals That Swim). Emma Pollock (Delgados) guests on “Love” and “Ears.”

This time, former Weddoes guitarist Simon Cleave is also around, and he co-wrote a couple of the songs. Gedge co-wrote two of the other songs with different people, neither of whom is properly identified in the credits.

The Best Thing About This Album

“The silence when you hold me is deafening.”

Release Date

October, 2000

The Cover Art

Another winner from Cinerama – bold color and font/graphics, with a whiff of romance to the blurry photos.

Cinerama – Va Va Voom

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Cinerama represented a rebirth for David Gedge, who by 1996’s tired Saturnalia, had put the Wedding Present through all the reasonable (and some unreasonable) twists and turns he could. Teaming up with girlfriend Sally Murrell, Gedge launched Cinerama, the aptly named chamber pop project. Gedge fortunately stuck to his comfortable themes of love, lust, betrayal, romance, infidelity, and heartbreak, but the new setting seemed to invigorate him, and Murrell’s voice was a warm, welcome (sometimes counterbalancing) presence.

What I Think of This Album

David Gedge and Sally Murrell offer up eleven orchestral pop nuggets that explore all aspects of interpersonal romantic relationships. The credits don’t seem to tell the full story of how this all came to be, however. Gedge and Murrell get a “performed by” credit right underneath the track listing, which seems generous. Meanwhile, the dozen plus contributing musicians receive a tepid “additional playing” nod. No word on who exactly arranged these intricate pieces, which would seem to be critical – otherwise, Gedge and Murrell could’ve just played these songs on guitars. In fact, the music is magnificent and Gedge comes up with lyrics to match.

“Comedienne” is almost straightforward jangle pop, propulsive and exciting, with some strings behind it and Murrell’s lovely backing vocals. “Maniac” is packed with dark, deadpan humor as it explores toxic masculinity (hence the title). “Hate” has some delightfully delicate percussion as well as a gentle organ, and Gedge half-convincingly declares his hatred for his lover’s “style,” “smile,” “country,” and “continent.”

The cinematic strings on “Kerry Kerry” are heart-stirring, and Murrell’s background coos are to die for; the percussion touches here are also noteworthy. The pop confection of “You Turn Me On” is perfectly composed. Emma Pollock of the Delgados sings on the lush “Ears,” an exploration of disloyalty. Pollock’s vocals were always the best thing about the Delgados. Gedge gets downright romantic on the sweet and carnal “Dance, Girl, Dance,” which glides by on heavenly strings.

My disc adds two bonus tracks:  the swoon-worthy “Love” (with a starring role for Pollock) and “Au Pair,” equally ridiculous and sad (“He fell in love with the au pair / When she ran her fingers through his hair”).

Marty Willson-Piper of the Church contributes guitar to the album, as does Animals That Swim and the Church producer Dare Mason. Speaking of Animals That Swim, their drummer and trumpeter – Anthony Coote and Derek Crabtree – also lend a hand. The connections continue with guest violinist Rachel Davies, who also played on the Animals That Swim album I Was the King, I Really Was the King. Cellist Julia Palmer had played with Billy Bragg.

The band thanks former Wedding Present drummers Simon Smith and Shaun Charman in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

The arrangements, whoever the fuck dreamt them up.

Release Date

October, 1998

The Cover Art

This is a good cover. I dig the colors, the composition, and the vaguely ‘60’s imagery. I don’t love the font for the band name, but I can forgive it.

Billy Bragg – Don’t Try This at Home

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

This album came out when I was in college, and I was thrilled – THRILLED – to learn that Johnny Marr had co-written the excellent single from it, “Sexuality.” I was disappointed that he was not in the music video, however. On the one hand, the album cemented Bragg’s move away from his early sound, but on the other, it was a return to form, with some of his sharpest songwriting in years and a trio of vigorous protest songs. I really thought this album was going to do better than it did, but it was released the same month as Nevermind, Use Your Illusion I & II, and Badmotorfinger (as well as a month after Ten), and never had a chance.

What I Think of This Album

Really, this was the album that should have made Bragg a star. And that was probably the goal, coming three years after the muddled Workers Playtime; here, he completes his transition from rough hewn punk-folkie to literate, witty pop craftsman, and with a bevy of famous guests to boot. While a tad overlong at 16 tracks – this would’ve been outstanding whittled back to 12 songs – Bragg finally hits the sweet spot of matching his songs with the appropriate full band arrangements.

If some of the early fire is dialed back, it is not completely absent as on Playtime, and Bragg shows he is still capable of spitting out “fascism” with unmatched disgust and vitriol. In fact, rousing opener “Accident Waiting to Happen” comes across as a statement of purpose, with Bragg combining his obsessions – love and politics – in the rare song that doesn’t focus on one or the other; why the narrator would be in a position to have to end it with a “dedicated swallower of fascism” in the first instance goes unaddressed, however. “Cindy of a Thousand Lives” – inspired by feminist photographer Cindy Sherman – is a verdant, almost orchestral-pop number, with Johnny Marr of the Smiths on guitar and Kirsty MacColl singing backup. Peter Buck and Michael Stipe appear on the unusually rustic “You Woke Up My Neighborhood,” which was co-written by Buck.

The most bizarre choice, though, is to bury the standout “Sexuality” in the nine slot, on the second half of the album. Featuring Marr’s unmistakable jangle, this sex-positive ditty is fun and clever and lighthearted; MacColl also sings harmony on this should’ve-been hit. Equally clever is the rueful “Mother of the Bride” in which Bragg laments blowing his chance with the now-wedded woman of his dreams (“I saw her at the hardware store / He looked boring and she looked bored / It’s nice to know that someone was on my side / Best wishes to the mother of the bride”).

“Tank Park Salute” is a touching tribute to his father, and “North Sea Bubble” is a throwback to his early sound, with an energetic ’50’s style guitar attack and a biting critique of capitalism, and reference to Edwin Starr (“War! / What is it good for? / It’s good for business”). Bragg tackles the resurgence of fascism in Britain (“And they salute the foes their fathers fought / By raising their right hands in the air”), as well as the complacency of the culture that accepts it, on the angry “The Few” to stirring effect. Elsewhere, “Body of Water” and “Moving the Goalposts” are solid songs.

The covers don’t do much for me – including a song about the US internment of citizens of Japanese descent co-written by Sid Griffin of the Long Ryders – and some of the slower numbers, like “Trust” and “God’s Footballer” really could have been cut. But overall, this is a strong album that proves that Bragg was much more than just a busker with an above-average vocabulary.

Tangent:  engineer Victor Van Vugt went on to produce albums by Luna, Nick Cave, Beth Orton, P.J. Harvey, and Mojave 3. Also, cellist Julia Palmer eventually played with Cinerama.

The Best Thing About This Album

How many songwriters will reference Serbian soccer team Red Star Belgrade and nuclear submarines, and also rhyme “Robert DeNiro” with “Mitsubishi Zero,” while in addition touching upon masturbation? I don’t know, but Billy Bragg did – and thanks to Johnny Marr for making it sound delightful – in the excellent “Sexuality.”

Release Date

September, 1991

The Cover Art

The color scheme is terrible and the undecipherable cartoons – a study of the liner notes reveals that each is attached to a specific song – are confusing. The font for the album title is good. But otherwise, this is a disaster of a cover.

Billy Bragg – Workers Playtime

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

Sometimes you own an album just for one song, and while that is admittedly stupid, it is also unavoidable and, ultimately, a testament to the power of that one song. These things aren’t rational, they are emotional. Emotions don’t make sense, unfortunately. It is unfair to write off this album as just a vehicle for “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards,” as there are a few other good songs on here, but those numbers pale dramatically against “Leap,” and even compared to Bragg’s other material, are not quite up to par.

What I Think of This Album

This is an extremely subdued album, trading the loud guitar of Bragg’s early work for piano, and also exchanging passion for craft; for the first time, there are whole band arrangements surrounding the songs, and Bragg doesn’t seem to know how to make that transition.

So while “She’s Got a New Spell” boasts a nice 12-string part from perennial pal Wiggy, a pleasant melody, and some intriguing lyrics, it’s also fairly lightweight. Honestly, no Billy Bragg song should ever last more than two-and-a-half minutes, which tells you all you need to know about the organ-heavy, over five-minute-long ballad “Must I Paint You a Picture,” which gives a co-vocal to keyboardist Cara Tivey; it’s not a bad song, but it’s not a fun one. “The Price I Pay for Loving You” is again piano-driven, and a well-constructed mature love song, but it languishes at not even mid-tempo. “Little Time Bomb” is aurally similar, except for the horns (excellent) and some more audible guitar. “Rotting on Remand” likewise can’t get out of first gear, despite an excellently played piano and some tasteful pedal steel. “Life With the Lions” is the first song to show any spark, but again, is piano heavy (though, once more, Tivey does an outstanding job on the instrument). There is considerably beauty to the sad “The Only One,” with a somber cello and delicate guitar, but it only adds to the feel that this album is overly plaintive. Indeed, slower (yes, slower) numbers like the a capella “Tender Comrade” and the ivory-reliant “Valentine’s Day Is Over” really drag things down. There is true excellence on “The Short Answer,” which has brass and strings (including cello by Julia Palmer (Cinerama)), but predictably, is not a rocker.

The saving grace, making up for all these missteps and snoozers and leaving room to spare, is the unusually self-aware, self-deprecating, and ultimately affirming anthem “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards,” in which Bragg wittily explores his purpose and principles as an activist musician (“Mixing pop and politics / He asks me what the use is / I offer him embarrassment / And the usual excuses”). Starting out simply with guitar and piano, the song bursts into a robust, energetic band arrangement, complete with group backing vocals (including from Michelle Shocked). For the first time, Bragg sounds like he’s having a blast and when he shouts an unexpected Star Trek reference (“Beam me up, Scotty”), it’s like he’s been liberated from the shackles of whatever he was trying to prove on the previous ten tracks.

The Best Thing About This Album

Oh, it’s not even close this time. “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards” is a top five Bragg song. Live, it is amazing.

Release Date

September, 1988

The Cover Art

Not good. The yellow is awful, and the individual text boxes at the top are difficult to navigate. The main image is too small and cluttered to be appreciated. The font of the album title is good, as is the clever Soviet-style logo. That bottom third of the cover should have been the entire cover, with a different color background.

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