Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Wedding Present "Valentina" (Scopitones)

First, a correction. We knew, just *knew* when we said that the last Wedding Present song to name 'Jane' was "Anyone Can Make A Mistake" that we would discover a later one. You were all too polite to say it, but of course Jane turned up in "I'm Not Always So Stupid", too, this time excoriating David by telling him to drop dead: he was obviously not her favourite person around 1987/88. So, as the song itself says, "I've made a fool of myself yet once again".

Now, let's candidly couple that correction with a confession: even as a fervent long-term Gedgeapologist, I've never truly been able to embrace the Peel quote that "the boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era" (helpfully emblazoned on a sticker on the new CD's cover). After all, while I'd spent years being reduced to tears by Bobby Wratten's impossibly brittle lyrics, or huddled under my duvet marvelling at the power of Keris Howard's deceptively simple words, the Wedding Present had always seemed a more robust proposition, however closely I'd identified with the sentiment on display.

But on this new album, the third since DLG reclaimed the Wedding Present name, I think we're finally all on the same page. Lyrically and musically, it confirms "the boy Gedge" as amongst the very most engaging and convincing chroniclers of relationships. "Valentina" (we're guessing, like Saturn V's "Red Star In Orbit", that we're talking Tereshkova here) is even better than "El Rey", just as "El Rey" was a notch up from "Take Fountain", and there are songs here that deserve far better than to be dismissed as afterthoughts from a band whose popularity peaked two decades ago (mind you, it hardly helps that the Weddoes are currently touring an album of precisely that vintage).

Take opener "You're Dead": while Gedge tries to distract us from its pulchritude with a skewed, yelping chorus, it's unmistakably a blue riband WP song, capturing his confidence as a writer yet harnessing the energy of the band in younger days. It even institutes an innovation to replace the legendary "crashing instrumental end bit" we described last time around, namely the "beautiful, but just as heartrending, instrumental end bit". (Don't worry though, because "Deer In The Headlights" later delivers a top drawer, & v. "What Have I Said Now ?"-esque "crashing instrumental end bit", just for old time's sake).

"End Credits", one of the more rumbustious tracks, is typical of the fare on offer in that it reminds us of several other WP songs at once: the bustling intro to "Niagara", the raw scamper of "Don't Talk Just Kiss", the vocal tics of "Fleshworld", some curving "Blue Eyes" guitar lines. At one point David sings, "this couple won't be strolling..." and you don't quite know what he's getting at, but then the lyric unfolds as "...into a blood-red setting sun / while the end credits are rolling", betraying a tenderness which could never quite flicker into life amid the angst and recrimination of songs like "My Favourite Dress".

Apart from the Wedding Present being influenced by, um, the Wedding Present, there are strong hints of Gedge's beloved Fall at play (that song "End Credits" again even has two drummers), while more than one track reminds us of the rarely-bettered Boyracer. In terms of seeking the pop jugular, the jaunty "524 Fidelio" may well be the tune you end up humming on the bus tomorrow, while "The Girl From The DDR" turns a Cold War fantasy into a surprisingly jaunty guitar-fest. And "Mystery Date" rounds things off memorably by combining the gentlest, most languorous verse (like "No Christmas", at times it's virtually imperceptible) with a grandstanding, Pixies-like chorus.

Interestingly, the Gedge 'character' on "Valentina" seems generally kinder and less paranoid than his persona on previous albums: despite delving into infidelity, he's no longer a serial heartbreaker, and at times seems (disbelievingly) content with his love-life. Perhaps only on "Stop Thief!" (contemplative to the point of bordering on suicidal) is there an unvarnished sadness. These emotional nuances are reflected by the fact that most of the ten songs on show are relatively intricate in arrangement. While never over-fiddly - sometimes it's the simple weave-in of a new guitar line - there's definitely a step-up from a past over-emphasis on bludgeoning, Albini-sanctioned "loud / quiet / loud" dynamics. On occasion, there are surprising changes in pace or instrumentation, but unlike some of Cinerama's discography you're never in mortal fear of there being a mariachi section or a flute solo hiding around the next corner.

Anyway. When we reviewed "You Jane" we were a little resigned to the Weddoes being past their best. And it's still hard for us to see past those early, fuzzed-up and urgent love songs we grew up on. But as we re-spin "Valentina", it's obvious that the Weddoes, even in 2012, represent more than merely nostalgia. We really can't think of too many better indie guitar-pop albums over the last few years: aside from Northern Portrait and Gold-Bears, you'd probably have to go back to Boyracer's last album, or the Pains of Being Pure At Heart's first one. Which makes it a crying shame that nobody who buys "Valentina" will be buying their first Wedding Present record.

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