Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Cinéma Verité [New Rose, 1985] A-
  • Box Office Bomb [Questionmark, 1987] A-
  • Stuck in Wonderamaland [Chameleon, 1989] B+
  • Live at China Club [Chameleon, 1990] B+
  • Vinyl [Chameleon, 1991] B+
  • Hi-Fi Sci-Fi [Chameleon, 1993] A-
  • The Best of Dramarama: 18 Big Ones [Elektra Traditions, 1996] A-
  • Everybody Dies [33rd Street, 2005] **
  • Color TV [Pasadena, 2020] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Cinéma Verité [New Rose, 1985]
In these days of acoustic punks and live Paul Revere elpees, six guys who salute their roots with Reed and Bowie covers are like unto a breath of springtime--and so unfashionable that though they reside in Wayne, New Jersey, they had to put out their album in Paris, France. One John Easdale would seem to be the auteur, if you'll pardon my French. Sounds a little like Richard Butler without the delusions of Vaughan Monroe, and the main things he has going for him are an acerbic but not self-serving way of describing his woman problems and a band that rocks without hyphens--in other words, plenty. A-

Box Office Bomb [Questionmark, 1987]
They'd rather stay home and make records than go out and play bars, which gives them less of a shot at a jealous following and more of a shot at you and me. Album two's songs don't leap out quite so fast, but everything has more kick--John Easdale's deeper, edgier vocals, Mr E Boy's articulated guitar, and especially Jesse's drums. And soon what you play for just one more post-Pistols taste shakes down into articulated tracks of surprising emotional range. A-

Stuck in Wonderamaland [Chameleon, 1989]
Imagine a Richard Butler who's not ashamed he watches television--who feels free to color his dolor with junk detail. That's American guy John Easdale, and it's too bad that like Butler he's slowing down as he grows older. The music's lickwise and the writing's fine, but only "Last Cigarette" is possessed by the runaway verve that drove them before they hied away to Wonderamaland. I do appreciate the Ian Hunter cover, though--the good ole '70s. B+

Live at China Club [Chameleon, 1990]
This bargain EP exploitation includes: three selections from the unblemished Cinéma Verité and Box Office Bomb, the two finest songs from the spotty Stuck in Wonderamaland, and a non-LP B-side exhibiting an abandon appropriate to both a Dolls cover and postpunk performance philosophy. It's only a live holding action, and let's hope the writing returns to form. But it'll sure show everybody who began with Wonderamaland how much form they have to return to. B+

Vinyl [Chameleon, 1991]
Their existential confusion goes global, especially with the nonprotest protest of "What Are We Gonna Do?" But as they burst upon the world after a maturing process without a public history, I'm sorry, they're a touch too slow. And long--the three six-minute jobs sink them in the very ponderousness skewered by the four-minute "Classic Rot." Not a very vinyl length, six minutes--especially in songs that might be as sharp as the rest speeded up and cut down. B+

Hi-Fi Sci-Fi [Chameleon, 1993]
Although "Incredible" uses the present tense to hail the perfect love of younger days--she smokes his brand of cigs and runs up a $12.37 electric bill ("our great expense") because (the historicizing clincher) she never turns off the radio--the bloody snot and lost year of "Prayer" and "I Don't Feel Like Doing Drugs" suggest a maturity move. What's confusing, and a stroke, is that with Clem Burke pounding the skins and the band mixing and matching, it rocks louder, harder, and faster than anything they've done since going pro--or ever. Assuming the content is autobiographical, which given John Easdale's gift for covering his tracks is only a conceit, this makes it the best just-say-no advert since "Tonight's the Night." Neil's, not Rod's, and you'd best believe pop polymath Easdale knows and admires both but prefers to evoke Neil, whose sister does a backup turn. He also lifts "Prayer" from "Search and Destroy." A-

The Best of Dramarama: 18 Big Ones [Elektra Traditions, 1996]
Imagine John Easdale as a cross between Richard Butler (P-Furs, fame fades) and Elliott Murphy (referenced in the notes, best on his 1973 debut Aquashow), only (a) a fan first and (b) less rich than either. A beautiful loser manqué in music for love--lucky for him he's got the tunes. If this sounds beguiling and you've never heard his finest album--the 1984 debut Cinéma Verité (although his later efforts sure topped Murphy's)--this will tempt you to give it a try. A-

Everybody Dies [33rd Street, 2005]
So get those songs on the record while you can ("Everybody Dies," "Good Night, America"). **

Color TV [Pasadena, 2020]
Pop savant John Easdale long ago relocated from New Jersey to California with the same two guitarists he'd known since he was a kid, and there picked up a new rhythm section that's been with him ever since. So after 35 years, Dramarama remain a true band no matter how often they play out. But synergy isn't the main reason their first album in 15 years is the finest of an impressively consistent career. Because he kept writing songs, Easdale had a lot of new material to choose from as the band gradually recorded the pieces of an album he conceived as the kind of short story collection that coheres into a whole. In an apolitical opener, the "our" in "no cure for our disease" means everybody, and that all too politically relevant mood gathers gradated tone and bitter detail as the collection proceeds. Easdale's casually unslurred vocals have gotten breathier as he hits his sixties, and his lyrics also soften slightly on their way to three devotional love songs: from "I'll never tell you how to talk" and "I'll still be there when you get old" to "We ate bugs and stayed off drugs and played canasta in the dark" and "You're the only one and we're still having fun" to "There's everybody else and then there's you, you, you." Sadly, however, the album ends with Elliott Smith's bereft "Half Right." As was Smith's depressive way, it allows us to interpret at will. But it bodes poorly for "you, you, you." A

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