Singles Going Steady

I LOVE SINGLES. And by singles, I do not mean those unattached fellows who strut past me in bars, clad in the briefest of disco shorts, trying to break up my happy home with a flex of their pectorals. No. I mean 45s, those glorious 7-inch slabs of vinyl. My first was Shaun Cassidy’s 1977 hit “Da Doo Ron Ron,” purchased at the local Kmart; my most recent is “Suck the Air” b/w (which stands for “backed with,” for you naive, iPod-wielding youngsters) “High Heels on Tile Floors” by Detroit electro duo ADULT.

David Gedge, singer-guitarist of British quintet Cinerama, shares my passion. “My parents used to have a lot of 45s and also the old, 10-inch shellac discs,” he recalls. “And I’ve always been a fan of radio, which, by definition, is largely singles-oriented. In Seattle, I’m more likely to switch on KEXP than to play an album that I knowbecause I want to hear something I’ve not heard before. Albums bore me to a certain extent . . . even though I’ve made a lot of them!”

Gedge has issued a daunting number of singles, too, both with Cinerama and his previous outfit, the Wedding Present. Most famously, in 1992, the latter band released a singlefeaturing an original A-side accompanied by a cover songevery month for a year. All 12 (later compiled on the two Hit Parade CDs) charted in Great Britain. Consequently, the Weddoes tied Elvis Presley’s 35-year-old record for most hits in a calendar year.

Wisely recognizing that climbing off the sofa every three minutes to replay a 45 can discourage those of us with back trouble from spinning 7-inches as often as we’d like, most of the Wedding Present and Cinerama singles have been neatly collected on disc. The just-released Cinerama Holiday (on Manifesto), gathers that band’s second round of four singles, originally issued between the summer of 2000 and spring of 2001.

FOR FOLKS THAT know Gedge best from the fast-and-furious Wedding Present, England’s finest indie-rock outfit after the Smiths’ 1987 split, Cinerama Holiday offers a swell introduction to his current group’s more orchestral, refined approach. Like the name implies, elements of film music are a key sonic component. The new collection opens with “Wow,” a crunchy surf-party number complete with spooky bongo intro, while “Lollobrigida,” garnished with dollops of accordion and marimba, pays homage to the beautiful Italian actress. “Superman,” a sweeping ballad that rivals the Divine Comedy or Scott Walker at their most melodramatic, shows just how much Gedge has developed as a vocalist, his guttural growl from the Weddoes replaced with an expressive, slightly aching croon.

Cinerama Holiday also features an interpretation of the Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More,” underscoring Gedge’s aforementioned love of radio. This is just the latest in a long string of covers by his bands, which have included songs by acts as diverse as Bow Wow Wow, the Beatles, and Isaac Hayes, as well as the Twin Peaks theme. Gedge says his criteria for choosing covers is twofold: “a combination of a band or a record that you really like, coupled with the notion that you could actually do something [different] to it.”

Of course, sometimes the task of doing justice to a well-loved song and putting a unique spin on it can seem almost insurmountable. Case in point: On the flip of the 2001 single “Health and Efficiency”itself a rather ambitious symphony for the kids (to quote Phil Spector) that opens with a snippet in which an unidentified gentleman rants excitedly about the Motown and doo-wop records he still treasuresCinerama tackled the James Bond theme “Diamonds Are Forever.”

“That one was a fuckin’ nightmare,” admits Gedge of their garage-y rendition of the Shirley Bassey staple. “I didn’t realize how intricate it was. When you hear it, you say, ‘Wow, it’s a good pop song.’ But I think because of [composer] John Barry being from a classical background, it has a very weird melody. I got the sheet music sent by the publishers, and there were some really strange chords. It literally took us about a year to record that one.”

Although Gedge promises Cinerama will be previewing new material on their current U.S. tour, he doesn’t anticipate the band will record its fourth studio album proper until the end of the year. Why the delay? Because, despite his teeming catalog, Gedge insists he’s not an especially prolific songwriter. And part of that, once again, comes down to his affection for singles. “At the risk of sounding immodest, I’ve got quite a good standard now, so I’m striving to maintainor even betterthat,” he concludes. “I’m always thinking, ‘Would this make a good single?’ That’s my prime motive. I want the albums to be like a Greatest Hits.”