CINERAMA, Disco Volante (Manifesto) Late in the '90s, David Gedge faced the perilous question that all accomplished rock songwriters eventually confront: What do I do now? He'd guided the Wedding Present through nearly a dozen collections of biting, punk-accented pop that surveyed the romantic landscape from every bitter angle known to man. Gedge's pronouncements relied on a jagged wall of guitars and his clipped, distinctly British phrasing, always teetering on the edge of an exasperated scream. In 1998, his answer arrived in a new project, Cinerama, that sandpapered the trademark slashing sound, layering horn and string arrangements behind a more refined guitar and vocal style. The transition was awkward—stripped of his careening disappointment, Gedge came off as misogynistic at times, while the band struggled to gain footing. For Disco Volante, he's reenlisted Wedding Present guitarist Simon Cleave, completely McCartney-ized Cinerama with lush orchestration, and recorded with clarity-minded engineer Steve Albini, who'd last recorded Gedge for 1991's Seamonsters. With familiar faces around, Gedge maneuvers bravely through more expansive terrain, approximating New Order's gait on the streamlined opener "146 Degrees," paying homage to a '50s film star in the Gainsbourgian "Lollobrigida," and even cranking the reverb for the surfy, sexy "Apres Ski." This boldness pays off. Having proved himself as one of punk-pop's incisive wits, Gedge strides into the 21st century as one of rock's smartest songsmiths. (Consumer note: Another new disc, This Is Cinerama (SpinArt), collects the band's earliest recordings.)—Richard A. Martin
VERSUS, Hurrah (Merge) If you want an unbiased review of the new Versus album, look elsewhere: I couldn't badmouth this New York band if they filled out their sound with the sax stylings of Kenny G. But then again, I own just about every song they've ever released, and I can discern vintage Versus from merely fantastic Versus better than anyone. With Hurrah, as the title indicates, they've achieved perfection again, starting with Richard Baluyut's ode to his sneaks (and a nod to, though not a cover of, Run-DMC), "My Adidas." The brilliance continues with a typically astute deconstruction of romance from cofrontperson Fontaine Toups, "You'll Be Sorry," and back to Richard's zeitgeist-capturing "I Love the WB." That's not the finale, however. Hurrah concludes with "Mermaid Legs," a cryptic mid-tempo duet about an "assassin in go-go boots," with imperceptibly sharp metaphors like "about as subtle as a mobile home" and a chiming guitar riff that taps straight into the synapses. Heck, it's probably one of the best songs ever, a sort of postmodern continuum from the Velvet Underground to XTC to Pavement to—who else?—Versus. Another masterpiece in a line that stretches back to 1993's Let's Electrify!, Hurrah is the most crucially important new album since Versus' last album. I, for one, can't live without it.—Richard A. Martin
Cinerama and Versus play the Crocodile on Wednesday, November 1.
THE SEA AND CAKE, Oui (Thrill Jockey) I've always been skeptical about the old adage that you can never have too much of a good thing, and then along came Oui to prove me right. Maybe it's my fault for hoping the band would challenge their formula while still staying true to it, but it appears that the Sea and Cake have decided it's OK to rest on their jazz-lite laurels. While the songs on the Chicago band's new album pulse slowly through the same vein as their earlier experiments, the driving, mathematical beat is missing. As is most of the guitar and bass, for that matter. Those instruments do appear, albeit truncated by the album's overly lounge- and Latin-flavored tone. Strings and swirling synths are inserted to beef up several tracks, but as those sounds are hardly ever "meaty," neither are the songs. Even the up-tempo ones lag along like wilting flowers in the hands of a dawdling Dadaist. And while it's conflicting that I have anything critical to say about a band I like so much, I cannot deny that an overwhelming urge to sleep impedes my ability to feel anything else. Sam Prekop's tender vocals meander around arrangements that are best left for '60s AM pop and Lawrence Welk reruns. On songs like "The Leaf," tons of moody, atmospheric keys substitute for the poppier, guitar-decorated substance of albums like Nassau and songs such as "There You Are" from The Fawn. When Prekop intones, "I'm afraid that/there's no reason/I waited," I, too, am afraid . . . afraid that I must unhappily agree.—Laura Learmonth
The Sea and Cake play at Graceland on Wednesday, November 1.
JIM CARROLL, Runaway EP (Kill Rock Stars) Jim Carroll recently told me that the last song the Velvet Underground recorded before Lou Reed left the band was an early version of Carroll's morbid roll call, "People Who Died," a lengthy group obituary which quickly garnered "punk anthem" status when Carroll finally released his version of it in 1980. To this day, when I mention Jim Carroll to most folks, they consistently reference either this song or (cringe) the poorly executed Carroll biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio, The Basketball Diaries. It's an unfortunate oversight because this underground poet laureate has made his share of memorable rock songs over the years. He gravitates toward simple guitar-bass-drum structures, but that's perfectly acceptable considering his lyrics fall far outside the traditional verse, chorus, verse. Although there's no new material on this just-released five-song EP, it features a pleasing handful of demo and live versions of some of his unsung classics. Carroll revisits his collaborations with Truly frontman Robert Roth (guitar, organ, mellotron, and production) on "Hairshirt Fracture" and "Falling Down Laughing," songs originally recorded for the Basketball Diaries soundtrack and inexplicably left off the final version. It also offers up enjoyably rough-hewn renderings of two earlier works: the infectious poseur reprimand, "It's Too Late," and the glam, urban "I Want the Angel," both recorded in 1998 at the Crocodile with the distinctly up-tempo assistance of Kurt Bloch and Brian Young. A charming, organ-infused version of Del Shannon's "Runaway" serves as a fitting title track for this brief yet satisfying collection.—Hannah Levin