HUMAN DRAMA-BROKEN SONGS (for broken people)
“Broken Songs for Broken People” marks the triumphant return of Human Drama, the first album for the venerable band in 15 years. The new album is a worthy addition to what is already a magnificent 30-year recorded legacy of singular depth and power. Although they’ve never broken through to mainstream success, a dedicated contingency of fans enthusiastically supports the band to this day. Led by the visionary singer/songwriter/musician Johnny Indovina, Human Drama’s new album is a solemn and lush return to the gorgeous and deeply emotional acoustic guitar and string-heavy sound of their greatest epic, “The World Inside.” The name of the band sums up their music: all our strengths and vulnerabilities, confusion and anxiety, sublime happiness, the endless fascination at the miracle and fragility of beauty, and the wrenching sorrow and heartbreak of loss. Their songs are human drama to the core, authentic and deeply ingrained with sincerity.
Human Drama grew out of the new wave/rock band The Models featuring Indovina, Michael Ciravolo (Guitar), Steve Fuxan (Bass) and Charlie Bouis (Drums), which formed in the mid-80s in New Orleans. Eventually relocating to Los Angeles and adding Keyboardist Mark Balderas, Human Drama became an integral part of the “Scream Scene” of bands that played regularly at the famed nightclub Scream, Human Drama signed to RCA Records and released their debut EP, “Hopes Prayers Dreams Heart Soul Mind Love Life Death” followed by “Feel” in 1989. Both produced by Ian Broudie (Echo and the Bunnymen, The Fall, The Lightning Seeds and many others), “Feel” is an edgy, viscerally emotional collection of alternative rock with strong melodic hooks, deeply introspective lyrics, sweltering guitar and vocals by Indovina equally convincing as a tortured whisper or a throat-shredding howl.
Unfortunately, “Feel” was a victim of label mishandling and ultimately did not approach its commercial potential. Tracks like “Death of An Angel,” “Heaven on Earth” and “I Could Be a Killer” should have been major hits on alternative radio, but the album went largely unnoticed. Undeterred by their disappointing experience with a major label, Human Drama went the independent route with their second album, and despite working with a fraction of the budget the result was their masterpiece, 1992’s “The World Inside.” Human Drama set aside the searing rock of “Feel“ for a more acoustic-based sound made magic by dazzling strings and Indovina’s powerfully resonant voice. Brilliant from start to finish, standouts include the single “Fascination and Fear,” the melodic folk-rock gem “Tears” and the propulsive rocker “Look into a Stranger’s Eyes.” The album won plaudits and critical acclaim, and although commercial success remained elusive, Indovina and his collaborators found the path that would lead them to several more outstanding releases.
The 1993 covers album “Pin Ups,” homage to David Bowie’s 1973 classic of the same name, includes a breathtaking reimagining of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” roiling with tension and passion. Indovina takes on songs by Bowie himself as well as Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits and others. A year later, after a particularly prolific period for Indovina, Human Drama released the EP “Human Drama” featuring the newly arranged version of the classic epic “The Waiting Hour” reduced to piano, strings and flute. In 1995 Human Drama unleashed the 20-song behemoth “Songs of Betrayal,” a master class in songwriting that ranges from tense and raucous electric-guitar driven tracks like “Another Fifty Miles” and “It Is Fear” to piercingly beautiful ballads like “Blue” and “This Forgotten Love.” The album was reissued four years laterin two separate parts with the addition of several bonus tracks.
Human Drama’s blistering 1996 live album “Fourteen Thousand Three Hundred Eighty Four Days Later,” which refers to the exact number of days Indovina had been alive up to the date of the recording, presents the full power of the band’s electrifying live performances. Particular highlights are a white-hot rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire” and a fervid take on their early gem “Wave of Darkness.” Another epic studio album followed, 1999’s “Solemn Sun Setting,” a deep collection of passionate performances. The album’s long and diverse, from the exquisite ballads “Single White Rose” and “Love’s Way” to the expansive and dramatic “March On” to the deliciously eerie psychedelia of “My Denial.” Human Drama’s final album (until now) came with “Cause and Effect” in 2002. After the largely downbeat and mellow “Solemn Sun Setting,” Human Drama set the strings aside and came out guitars blazing on feverish rockers like “Goodbye Sweetheart” and “I Am Not Here.” Indovina did not abandon his gift for stunning balladry though, as “Lonely,” swirling with sumptuous piano is one of the finest of his career.
Human Drama disbanded and Indovina pursued a side project, Sound of the Blue Heart, with whom he released two solid albums: “Beauty?” and “Wind of Change.” Indovina finally released his first solo album in 2014 with “Trials of the Writer,” an intimate and deeply personal reflection on the intense emotional connection between the songwriter and the soul-bearing compositions that document his life with honesty, poignancy, and sometimes rage and heartbreak.
Human Drama was not quite finished, though. The encouragement of their fans brought them together for two landmark shows. The band reunited in August 2012 for a triumphant performance at El Plaza Condesa in Mexico City, where Human Drama has amassed a sizable fan base. Three years later, in a 2015 show marking Human Drama’s 30th anniversary, they delivered a marathon performance at the Circo Volador in Mexico City on Halloween night. They played 42 songs in all, ending with the first new Human Drama track in 13 years, “The Liar Inside.”
The enthusiasm of the fans and the successful first experiment in resurrecting Human Drama in the studio with “The Liar Inside” led to Indovina diving into an intense journey of songwriting, the result being “Broken Songs For Broken People.” The album delivers the essence of what Human Drama has always been about: emotional songs that veer between those brimming with delicate beauty and those that are piercingly fraught with tension and pain.
Indovina invited many familiar collaborators from albums past back into the fold for the new project. He’s joined by original member’s bassist Steve Fuxan, guitarist Michael Ciravolo and Charlie Bouis (who contributed some engineering and mixing on the album), all veterans of a substantial portion of Human Drama’s output. On drums is Rob Cournoyer (another native of New Orleans) who also appeared on “Cause and Effect” and Sound of the Blue Heart “Beauty?”. And of course original member keyboardist Mark Balderas, who has been such a pivotal part of the band’s sound through all their best work, provides stunning work on the piano, Hammond B3, Mellotron and Wurlitzer. Also featured are Curt Harding, who appeared on both “The World Inside” and “Pin-ups,” contributes bass on “Trying to Make Sense of It All.” Vocalist Shea Alexander nails a stunning vocal on her duet with Indovina, “Love Lies Still,” which also features bassist Chris Severin, a talented New Orleans-based musician who’s worked with the likes of the Neville Brothers and Dr. John plus veteran ace Carlo Nuccio, a New Orleans-based drummer who’s worked on an impressive string of landmark albums including Emmylou Harris’ “Red Dirt Girl” and Tori Amos’ “Under the Pink.” Sound of the Blue Heart members Timothy Grove who plays guitar on “A Long Time Ago”, “Love Lies Still” and “Trying to Make Sense of It All” which also includes drummer Peter Straub. The strings have returned, exquisitely performed on various tracks by Emmanuel Lauren, Guierrmo Gutierrez, Lyn Bertles, and Alicia Enstrom. Indovina leads the charge as always, and from the chill-inducing opening chords of the title song it’s clear that Human Drama is back in full creative force.
It can be frustrating when mediocre talent sometimes earns massive popularity while an immensely important band like Human Drama has flown under the radar of national consciousness for three decades. The time for that to change is now. “Broken Songs for Broken People” is a genuinely moving collection that expands the band’s sound and legacy, and will hopefully be just the start of an exciting new chapter for Indovina and his magnificently talented collaborators. Human Drama is looking forward to touring in support of the new album, and will surely be sprinkling the sets with many of their numerous classics. “Broken Songs for Broken People” is an amazing piece of work, and an opportunity for music lovers to discover a band that has generated a recorded legacy of profound depth and emotional authenticity that’s ripe for discovery.