David Gedge has always made the most of a limited vocal range — and an equally narrow topical range. No matter the musical context, the Leeds singer/guitarist writes nothing but love songs. That ethos remained in place even after he iced the Wedding Present — of which he was the only start-to-finish member — in the late ’90s and formed Cinerama, a group primarily inspired by the ’60s film score work of composers like John Barry, with romantic partner Sally Murrell on vocals and keyboard.
Like a girl in her first prom dress, the sophistication of Va Va Voom is a novelty, which the two don’t really make their own. The Wedding Present’s strength was Gedge’s lyrical precision. Here, swooning strings take the forefront. While Gedge and Murrell harmonize, vocals are deemphasized, and his typically surprising rhymes are AWOL. For the most impressive introduction, try “Hard, Fast and Beautiful,” a lament for a lost love.
Cinerama, by now a fully staffed group that had toured together, hit its stride on Disco Volante. The new lineup included late-period Wedding Present guitarist Simon Cleave , drummer Simon Pearson and bassist Terry de Castro. Weddoes-style noisy guitars nestle among harpsichord-emulating keyboards under the guidance of producer Steve Albini. The lively songs never reach the frenzied pace of Gedge’s past. But, as with his best work, the words are sharp and properly showcased. “Wow” is about the moment one gives in to temptation, while “Heels” offers just the snap missing from the first album: “You need a paramour/Someone to pluck your eyebrows for.”
Torino breaks no musical ground, even with Kari Paavola replacing Pearson. But there is lyrical development. On one hand, his first-person perspective has clearly moved on from his original field of unrequited young love. A clutch of songs about the emotional complexity of infidelity (a topic he did eventually address in the Wedding Present) plants Torino firmly in adulthood — the only youthful infatuation is in the belated reminiscence of “Health and Efficiency.” The lush arrangement of “Get Up and Go” crescendoes with buzzing guitar joining the delicate string section, echoing the tumultous feelings after a one-night stand. But between the repetition of key phrases from previous works and some uncharacteristically coarse language, Gedge appears to be groping toward a new lyrical voice. If not running short on ideas, he’s having trouble finding ways to express them.
This Is Cinerama and Cinerama Holiday are singles collections covering, respectively, 1998–2000 (Va Va Voom era) and 2000–’02. Both include non-album B-sides. John Peel Sessions combines two studio sessions for BBC Radio and includes live versions of “Kerry Kerry” and “Hard, Fast and Beautiful” as well as acoustic renditions of “Pacific” and “Dance, Girl, Dance.”