It must have spooked David Gedge, singer and guitarist of Cinerama (and, lest we forget, hero and frontperson from Leeds' sorely-missed The Wedding Present) to have been voted one of the Bustiest men in America. Imagine: over his morning coffee, he opens that fateful envelope with no return address, and the photocopied pages from the Fall 2000 issue of Bust spill out onto his Weetabix.
That short and glowing profile by Marcelle Karp must've scrambled the poor guy's brains, because Torino, Cinerama's latest full-length, is an album of simultaneously huge and fragile proportions. Like their last album, Disco Volante (2000), this one is indelibly stamped with bursting-at-the-seams Steve Albini production. Albini's previous work with Shellac, Low, Silkworm, The Breeders, and (surprise!) The Wedding Present has proved to be unparalleled in-the-red rockage. Tracks like "Starry Eyed", which sounds like the fist-pumping rocker that Burt Bacharach wishes he could write, showcase the quiet-loud magic that Albini can conjure with talented songwriters (Gedge and his guitarist Simon Cleave share writing duties on most of the album).
But that enormous production works equally well on songs "Cat Girl Tights", with its woozy waltzing strings and chunky guitars (Cleave sounds like he's literally scraping pebbles out of his fretboard), and "And When She Was Bad", which starts with a literal gasp from Gedge and a gently strummed guitar, adds a xylophone and an ethereal melody line from Sally Murrell (Gedge's partner), before everything explodes into a sweeping orchestral pattern, complete with drummer Kari Paavola and bassist Terry de Castro adding a solid low-end while Cleave sprays feedback all over the place. The song lulls us into a quiet strings and guitar before ending. What's amazing about the production is that the guitar feedback is compressed enough to remain buried underneath the strings. At the same time that Cinerama hits the big sounds, they also stroke the delicate ones, too, such as the bells at the end of "Quick, Before It Melts", the sound of wind that opens and closes "Starry Eyed", and the field recording that begins "Health and Efficiency".
Lyrically, the band is back with another collection of songs dissecting love and/or lust, as well as falling in and/or out of the same. Legendary London DJ and tastemaker John Peel has said of Gedge, "This boy . . . has written some of the best love songs of the rock 'n' roll era." To this end, Gedge is incredibly adept at conjuring oceanic emotions and huge situations out of minute details. In "Get Up and Go": "When, finally, I wake up / You're removing last night's makeup / You turn your head / And then crawl back into bed". In "Cat Girl Tights": "And how we spent / Those winter nights / Just sat by the fire / You in your cat girl tights". In "Get Smart": "I heard exactly what you said / But I know that he slept in our bed / You should really take more care / Because all it took was a single hair". The opening lines to "Airborne" -- "And I was watching you / From the observation deck / Until your plane became / A shiny speck" -- expresses more sadness than any country-and-western cry-in-your-beer song can.
Despite Peel's thumbs-up, though, Gedge does lean heavily on the cringeworthy lyric. One of the more egregious rhymes that's impossible to dislodge from your subconscious is on Disco Volante's "Because I'm Beautiful". In that song, Gedge rhymes "premium" with "bohemian." On Torino, when he ends a line "sleazy," you can bet your last shilling that "easy" is going to end the next line. (He's not beyond using that couplet twice!) And I'm still not sure what to do with his line, "But everything was so clear-cut / And this is such a cliché but / You don't appreciate the joy until you lose it" in "Health and Efficiency".
There's also the matter of Gedge's narrators' love-hate relationships with the women in his songs. On "Two Girls", the narrator says about one partner: "But she charms me / She harms me / She fights me / Delights me / She breaks me / She takes me / She eats me / She defeats me". The speaker on "Estrella" admits infidelities to a partner, saying, "I am not the man for you". And, read together, "Quick, Before it Melts" and "Tie Me Up" create a sado-masochistic song suite; they are addressed to a (potential) tease of who the narrator demands dominance in the bedroom.
However difficult it is to not read misogyny into these lyrics, we could also read the lyrical relationships Gedge's narrators have with the partners they've lost (or are in the process of losing) another way: as nostalgic memories. This feeling of joyful longing for earlier, uncomplicated times shines in "Health and Efficiency", the album's finale. Its swelling, majestic strings complement the recall of days when the couple in the song was "young and free", when coffee still "tasted funny".
Keeping these concerns in mind, and taking into consideration the pseudo-cheesecake '60s photographs that have adorned Cinerama's recent releases, maybe Bust should revoke their reward.
Or should they? Of course, just as there are two ways of reading Gedge's lyrics, there are two ways of seeing this artwork: as a nostalgic celebration of the antiquated mores of a long-gone decade, or as an ironic commentary on those mores. For proof of the latter, check out the poolside beaus and belles frugging next to an open package of weenies on the band's 2001 John Peel Sessions. And while you're at it, try not to giggle.