Release Date: Mar 20, 2012
Record label: Scopitones
It seems impossible to talk about The Wedding Present without quoting John Peel. “The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era,” the legendary disc jockey once declared. Valentina, the first Wedding Present album in four years and ninth overall is an affirmation of Peel’s statement, but “the best love songs” is more than just the best being in love songs.
A new Wedding Present album feels like going out for an evening with an old, old friend. You know the friends I mean - they're the ones who you may not speak to for months or years at a time, bar a hurried phone call or sarky Facebook comment. But, they're also the ones that, when shit goes wrong or when shit goes right, they're the first on the phone.
The Wedding Present were indie darlings even before the days when indie was called alternative, back when "college rock" was the preferred marketing tactic for punk-influenced guitar pop. Usually it's a bad thing when a band sticks to an approach for 25 years, but in their case the adage about not fixing what's not broken applies perfectly. Because singer/guitarist David Gedge is the only original member, the Wedding Present don't sound like a carbon copy of their 80s selves but have managed the all-too-rare feat of progressing without forgetting what they're good at.
Valentina is the Wedding Present's ninth full-length album, the third since David Gedge shut down Cinerama and went back to using the WP name. It's also the first time in 12 years Gedge has been without the services of bassist Terry DeCastro; though she did stick around long enough to provide a few backing vocals. Otherwise, longtime fans will be glad to hear that nothing else has changed.
It may be 21 years after the Wedding Present made its one seminal entry in the transatlantic indie canon, yet every subsequent effort has been greeted by the same question: Is [fill in the blank] as good as Seamonsters? It’s telling that that’s what’s still being asked, because it means that the answer hasn’t changed yet. Even if comparing Seamonsters with each of the five proper full-lengths that have come in its wake is admittedly a lazy and ultimately unfair mental exercise, doing so doesn’t diminish the rest of the Weddoes’ output so much as speak to the enduring vitality and visceral punch of their watershed work: Seamonsters really has stood the test of time and repeated listens, its soft-loud-louder dynamics as dramatic as ever, while David Gedge’s open-wound romantic neuroses still sting. So, no, Valentina doesn’t measure up to the total experience of Seamonsters—and the fact that the Weddoes are playing Seamonsters in its entirety while touring behind their new offering suggests they might very well realize that themselves.
Know how you can tell when a band is really excited about its new album? When the selling point of their tour is that they're going to be playing all of an album they made 21 years ago. That may be a slightly unfair assertion, but the Wedding Present are asking for it: their tour for Valentina is being billed as the shows at which they'll recapitulate 1991's Seamonsters in its entirety, "along with 40 minutes of other music. " Seamonsters was a hard slap of an album, indie pop curdled into abrasion and dissonance, with lyrics whose barbed wit seemed like singer/guitarist David Gedge's dam to hold back much more hurtful words.
After a quarter century, the Wedding Present is more than just an ironic name for an emo band. But 28 years after David Gedge’s girlfriend and drummer left him for his guitar player (who also left the band), it’s worth questioning how long Gedge’s personal-vendetta songwriting retains relevance. Because while their latest offering captures momentary glimpses of the vitality that made the Wedding Present one of British rock’s greatest workhorses, Valentina spends much of the time spinning in circles instead of plodding onward.
At this point, if the Wedding Present were to make some kind of drastic change to their distinctive sound, it would be rather unpleasant and jarring. There have been some subtle shifts over the band's 25-year career, including the Cinerama dalliance, but they are still unrivalled when it comes to the world of indie rock. Their eighth studio album, Valentina, is a great record for all the customary reasons.
This year marks the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese calendar, and in Blighty it could well be shaping up to be the year of the old dragon. So far we’ve seen creative rejuvenation and surprises from a bunch of artists, including Tindersticks, (the admittedly not so old) Graham Coxon and even Paul Weller, who made the most interesting record of a career that has only recently emerged from the safety of self-parody. Hats off and marks for effort too for David Gedge, who after all this time has managed to make his troupe sound relevant again.
Self-parody, the fabrication of oneself, by oneself is often lauded for its humility and genius. Many late Hemmingway publications are considered to be so, despite suggestions to the contrary that they were, in fact, merely inferior pieces of work. Can one man’s mimicking genius be another man’s poor imitation?In their stable, early nineties incarnation, The Wedding Present produced the brilliantly caustic ‘Bizarro’ and discordant ‘Seamonster’ before the revolving door began to spin around the arbor of David Gedge, vocalist, guitarist, and all round auteur.
The first album from David Gedge and company since El Rey in 2008, Valentina exudes only faint whiffs of legacy high points like George Best and Bizarro, 1987 and 1989 respectively. The wistful, guitar-driven heartache of those LPs cut to the core of how it feels to be an overanalytical young man with a penchant for romantic masochism. On the Leeds, UK, legend's latest, raw nerves give way to slightly rumpled sluggishness.