THE SOUND OF POP ART
Drama (England In June)
This Cambridge quartet has been quietly making a riot on the retro scene for the past few years, so it’s great to finally hear an album by them [this is actually their third]. It’s very much an ensemble piece, both in terms of the multitude of guests on here, and the styles displayed. The project is helmed by songwriter Chris Free; kudos to him for the continued effort put into this project.
The opening track ‘Freedom’ got a review on here a few months back, and we spoke of it’s excellent breezy summer feel. It still hits the spot in shivering November: it’s mix of 80s/early 90s influences (Paul Weller Movement, the acid jazz scene), plus a sprinkling of ’60s Dusty, making it the 2016 pop tune of choice for the sussed generation. On playback it’s not surprising to learn that Free refined his trade as a songwriter during this time period, appearing on Weller’s Respond label. The honeyed singing of Louise Turner on ‘Freedom’ is calm and sultry and perfect for these songs. Her vocal delivery is eerily similar to that of Kylie Minogue, but I’m not sure that’s intentional. It’s great, anyway.
With it’s soft parping horns, stellar sax line [by Gary Malby] and delicate organ sound ‘Kiss The World Goodbye’ is a soft-sike piece of neo-Bacharach that is to be both admired and loved in equal measure, it’s serious lyrical subject a nice counterweight to the melody. Sara Onyett’s exquisite Motown-esque bass playing leads the way on ‘Secondary Modern’, and is one to fill any dancefloor. Perhaps the best thing on here is “hidden track” ‘Shape Of Jazz’, which isn’t jazzy at all, but a straight four-to-the-floor Motown stomper that you’d expect is the centrepiece to their live set.
Elsewhere you’ll hear the driving Spencer Davis Group/Georgie Fame-esuqe R&B-pop of ‘Mr A James’ and ‘Intoxicated Soul’ that, for me, is their most accomplished forte. ‘Generation X’ meanwhile might be the most derivative thing on here - it’s 80s Weller worshiping tones unmistakable - but as you don’t hear it often these days it’s nonetheless very pleasant. You might hear his ‘Dad Rock’ influence left right and centre, but utilising those smooth, jazzy Style Council ideas is, ironically, pretty fresh in 2016 [see also on the atmospheric title track, and on the nu-soul of ‘So High’].
The songwriting on this album is great, the playing is great...a shame the production is a little thin, but budget constraints for self-financed bands is always limiting, so who am I to knock. If you like your retro pop to be smooth, mature and summery then Drama will be Heaven sent. In fact, everyone will take something from this album, such is the overall quality and diversity of influences. Nice work, team.
Drama is out now via Bandcamp and on CD on December 8.
BY PHIL ISTINE
A blog to pontificate upon music both new and old: mostly reviews, some news, interviews, thought pieces, and exclusive content.