he T-shirts said All The Songs Sound The Same. The critics said that they were every bespectacled, pasty-faced Smiths fans second-favorite band. The singer sounded more like a croaking frog than a proper popstar. They share a Guinness record with Elvis, but their label dropped them immediately after setting it. Underachieving and underappreciated, the Wedding Present was one of the best bands to emerge in the gap between post-punk and Britpop.
When David Gedge sent his bands self-released debut single to John Peel, the basic template for their sound was already formed: What Goes On-era Velvets fronted by a tone-deaf Morrissey, played at a whiplash-inducing tempo. Peel seized onto the band, and gave them repeated play on his show, a crucial boost that soon made them into the critical favorites of the C86 generation. Several memorable singles (most notably My Favourite Dress) were quickly followed by George Best, a consistently engaging and energetic debut. Heavily influenced by the lovelorn jangle of the short-lived Orange Juice, upbeat pop melodies were married to Gedges keenly observational lyrics of longing and infidelity.
1989s Bizarro, their first major label effort, found the Wedding Present at a crossroads. The basic template of the songs remained identical to George Best, but the band had begun to stretch out the songs into lengthier rhythmic workouts (with Take Me clocking in at a endurance-testing 9 minutes). The most valuable results of this period, however, were not to be found on the proper album, but on the following Brassneck EP. If leadoff single Kennedy had shown a more aggressive side to the Weddoes, the brutal explosion of Brassneck left no doubt that the band had found the perfect sound to match the increasingly dark and obsessive vision of Gedge. Compared to the album version, this was an entirely different beast: thudding, heavily distorted, and sneering. The crucial element in this new sound was the choice of Steve Albini to man the engineers chair, resulting in a set of songs that submerged, but never drowned out, Gedges pop sense in bursts of noise. The final song on the EP was a gift from John Peel, an obscure single called Box Elder, originally recorded by an unknown American band called Pavement.
After Brassneck, the Wedding Present retained Albinis services and returned to the studio. When they emerged in 1991, the resulting album, Seamonsters, was nothing less than a masterpiece, and the finest album they would ever record. Carrying the developments of the preceding EP to their logical end, delicate guitar passages and hushed vocals are overwhelmed by torrents of feedback, with Gedge struggling to be heard above the din. More importantly, Gedge delivered some of his finest songs ever, delving still deeper into variations of lust and betrayal.
It was perhaps inevitable that the bombshell of Seamonsters would result in a fallout of critical backlash, though few would have expected the suddenness of the blow. The band had criticized the industry before (their first appearance on Top of the Pops was marked by Gedges refusal to lip-sync to the pre-recorded song, standing slack-jawed in protest), but their next action was a high-concept prank that pushed patience beyond the breaking point. Releasing a limited edition single once a month, the Wedding Present earned a place next to Elvis Presleys Guinness record for the most Top 30 singles in a year. This temerity might have been forgiven if the songs had been up to par, but Gedges writing stumbled for the first time, resulting in a set of largely undistinguished material. This also ended the Weddoes time on RCA, and marked the beginning of the end.
This is not to say that the band was done playing good songs. Their next album, Watusi, found them returning to the trebly jangle of their first singles, and a far sunnier atmosphere. Pleasant pop material, with such highlights as Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah and Shake It, dominated this album. The major exception was Spangle, which foreshadowed Gedges work with Cinerama by doing away with guitars completely, resulting in an oddly compelling song. Despite the enjoyable nature of the album, it faded from the consciousness more quickly than anything the Wedding Present had recorded up to that point.
The light nature of Watusi was a full-course meal compared to its follow-up, Saturnalia. More than anything, Gedge seemed to be suffering from a case of writers block. This was Wedding Present by the numbers; it was no surprise that 1997 found the band announcing that it was going on hiatus for the indefinite future.
Since then, Cinerama (Gedges collaboration with partner Sally Murrell) has retained the familiar themes of love, women, and (in)fidelity, but placed them in a setting of 60s pop instrumentation. The reaction to this change falls into two basic camps: those who enjoy the attempt to move towards a more varied songwriting approach, and those who feel that Cinerama is enervated and dull compared to its predecessor. Torino, their latest album, may help reconcile the two groups; Gedge has turned the guitars up again, found the distortion pedal, and made his best album since Watusi.
Played with: Peter Salowka, Paul Dorrington, Keith Gregory, Simon Smith.
Location: Leeds, England
Style: Indie Rock
Labels Appeared On: Reception, Cooking Vinyl, RCA, Bizarre/Straig, Island, spinART
Bizarro (1989, RCA)
Watusi (1994, Island)
Starting Point: George Best + 9 (Reception, 1987; reissued on Cooking Vinyl)
Essential: Seamonsters (Bizzare, 1991)
By: Kurt Deschermeier
Published on: 2003-09-01
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