r - Drama Queen - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

r - Drama Queen

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2011-02-28

"A Gay Album," announces a sticker on the cover. If you say so. Beyond its names and a couple of track titles ('The Queen is Dead', presumably a reference not to The Smiths' song but to a section of Last Exit to Brooklyn, and 'The Way's to Love a Man') there's nothing (pardon the expression) screamingly gay about Drama Queen. Still, gayness, as with so much in this world, is in the eye of the beholder and while Drama Queen eschews the vaudeville campery of, say, Scissor Sisters, r main-man Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo wares his outsider status on his sleeve. Drama Queen is shot through with queer sensibility and for much of its duration makes for decidedly uncomfortable listening.

The album plays out like a bleak psychodrama, making its name both mocking and apt. This queen is definitely not here to entertain you. Some parts are fantastic: the numbed throb and husky whispering of final 'Time Begins Again (The Queen is Dead Pt. 1)' feels inspired by both Neu! And the ambient industrial of Throbbing Gristle and Alec Empire. Meanwhile, 'Fatback & Champagne' is a lovely, wistful instrumental pitched somewhere between Pink Floyd and Brian Eno, it's stately piano, tick-tock percussion and skidding, cut-up vocal samples perfectly conjuring a wasted day in rainy Soho.

Things work less well on the vocal-led tracks. The vocals (presumable those of Palumbo) are thick, dour, heavily accented and very reminiscent of Nico - another sign that carefree frolics are not on the agenda. 'Afraid' and 'The Ways to Love a Man' are slow and dirge-like but both possess a fragile beauty which emerges after a few listens. 'The Ways to Love a Man' in particular, with its yarning, plangent guitar, works as the album's emotional core.

Perhaps better track sequencing would have seen these two songs spaced apart. In fact, a different track-listing could have made Drama Queen's nuances clearer. Shuffling the long, Laurie Anderson-esque spoken-word track 'See What the Boys in the Backroom Will Have' further back and easier to grasp tracks forward would have helped. Unfortunately, the one track where Palumbo's vocals would have made for a perfect fit, a cover of Marianne Faithful's 'Sister Morphine', is rendered as a long, uninvolving near-instrumental.

With four tracks nudging the eight-minute mark, and an unrelentingly grey atmosphere throughout, it's no surprise Drama Queen drags at times. 'Stormy Feathers', for example, is an eternity of heavily-treated bass drones, white noise and feedback. However, it you can persevere with, for example, the churning industrial noise of 'The End of Time (The Queen is Dead Pt. 2)' you'll be richly rewarded. This is another album from Tin Angel, fast emerging as the go-to label for seriously out-there sounds, which deserves repeated listens.

With homophobic attacks on the rise in the traditional gay paradise of London's West End, gay couples getting barred from Soho pubs for kissing, while straight songwriters like Lady Gaga and Borrell 2.0 from Glasvegas presume to write songs from a gay perspective, perhaps this is exactly the kind of troubled, angry, fiercely iconoclastic music we need in 2011.

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