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The Bent Backed Tulips / "Looking Through . . ." / eggBERT

October 20, 1994|MIKE BOEHM

One sign of a songwriter who truly has the knack is a surplus of quality material that gets locked in the vaults or scattered around on the odd, hard-to-find B-side, movie soundtrack or import-only release. Bob Dylan and the Band's "Basement Tapes" (see below), The Who's "Odds & Sods" collection, Elvis Costello's "Taking Liberties" and "The Great Lost Kinks Album," all compilations of rarities and missing links, are sign posts of their respective creators' fertility: These were ones that didn't make the cut?!

The newly defunct Dramarama makes its contribution to this genre with the belated arrival of this pseudonymous 1989 album, previously released only in Europe (the band name and album title were lifted from the Beatles song, "Glass Onion"). The band's singer-songwriter, John Easdale, had come up with more material than Dramarama's U.S. label, Chameleon, was willing to put out, because it was busy with a concurrent official release, "Stuck in Wonderamaland." So Dramarama bootlegged itself in a limited release for the Euro fans only. Now we get to hear it, too.

The 11 original tracks of "Looking Through . . ." are here, along with nine that were never released anywhere. The only overlap with previously issued Dramarama work is "Long Long Gone," a stripped-down, slide guitar version of the ballad that was called "Hardly Enough" on "Wonderamaland."

Through a glass onion or any other lens you choose, Easdale's dark vision remained fairly constant over the course of Dramarama's five (now six) albums. He has been a bard of frustration and anxiety, singing in a nervous, pinched voice or an anguished, full-on cry about loves that fail and hopes that falter. His excellent ear for melody, his ability to muster verbal energy with the fresh lyrical turn and Dramarama's flexible and not-too-fastidious way with a wide range of '60s smart-pop sources were the reasons to keep going back for more. All those are present here.

The opening salvos of "Looking Through . . ." rock ahead; Side Two would have made a heck of an "MTV Unplugged" session, but in this, as so many other things, Dramarama's luck and timing were off.

Noteworthy electric tracks are "I Think," an edgy but wryly bouncy excursion through marital hell that finds Easdale adapting an uncharacteristically deadpan delivery, and "Tie Me Down," a swarming, irate song that is also available as a vinyl single (the B-side is Easdale's more recent solo rendering of Morrissey's "Last of the Famous International Playboys"). The acoustic "On the Streets" is a real find, a weary and bereft song that calls to mind the Beatles' "Across the Universe." Ditto for "Real Easy," a post-mortem on a relationship in which the narrator has proved no match for a perhaps too-alluring lover: "You really moved like a heartbreaker/You make me shake like a salt shaker/You make me feel like a toll-taker."

A selection of covers, from Stevie Wonder, the Faces, the Monkees and T-Rex, keeps up Dramarama's reputation as an all-purpose rock fan club disguised as a rock band.

"Looking Through . . ." is probably only the fourth-best Dramarama album (surpassed by "Wonderamaland" and the two fine '90s releases, "Vinyl" and "Hi-Fi Sci-Fi"). But it has some stiff competition.

eggBERT Records, 2755 Via Hacienda, P.O. Box 10022, Fullerton, CA 92635.

John Easdale plays a semi-acoustic show Oct. 27 at Club 369, 1641 N. Placentia Ave., Fullerton. (714) 572-1816.

* Times Line: 808-8463

To hear an excerpt from "Looking Through . . .," call TimesLine and press *5530

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