Of The Wedding Present singer, John Peel once said “The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era. You may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong!” Firstly, an apology for the John Peel mention so early on, in what marks a seemingly inherent link between the DJ and the band that they can’t seem to ever escape from. Secondly, a retraction of this apology – because how could anyone ever begrudge a band being championed by John Peel and subsequently being reminded of it? Thirdly, and crucially, the statement itself is indisputable. David Gedge, while confessing that he is unequivocally not a romantic, is a master of “in love” songs; the unspoken understanding being that he is also an expert at “out of love” songs, the antihero of a genre where trite sentiment and sickly stereotypes are all too often found by the bucketload.
In this, the band’s eighth studio album, it’s clear from the title alone that the subject matter remains the same. Love, or lack thereof, is back on the agenda. An account of his girlfriend’s infidelity on album opener ‘You’re Dead’ concludes with the lyrics “You appal me/Okay, call me” before ‘You Jane’ sees Gedge ruefully observe “He’s Bogart, you’re Bacall” as she leaves him for another man.
The band have gone through so many line up changes that David Gedge is the only remaining original member, but it’s a tribute to his focus and vision that this couldn’t sound like anyone other than the Weddoes. A little bouncier and more light-hearted than their last album El Rey and trimmed down to 10 songs, it harks back to their earlier efforts and all the songs here are reminiscent of what’s been before. Though a lot less frenetic than the days of George Best, they still veer towards unhinged moments – the sprawling feedback at the end of ‘Back a Bit… Stop’, the playful guitars in ‘Deer Caught in the Headlights’ and the injections of noise. Their forte is pairing these off-kilter twists with an endless grasp of melody and an unfailing knack for amazing would-be hits (“would-be”, that is, if the current pop singles-buying demographic wasn’t concerned exclusively with vacuous autotuned accounts of essentially getting spannered in a club in what will inevitably turn out to be a vicious cycle of embarrassment and regret). The band’s frenzy has mutated into the ability to push the boundaries of indie-pop protocol, the songs building, falling and crashing with characteristic flourish. As their track record attests they have never been afraid of being overblown, but they keep things fairly short and sharp here, which packs even more of a punch.
Valentina offers the kind of vintage references, musically and lyrically that nobody else can do in quite the same way. Their style may evolve but they still appear to live by the adage of “It if ain’t broke…”. Needless to say, the only thing that always seems to be broke[n] is Gedge’s heart, which still sounds as though it’s at the mercy of every girl he meets. While their music is unmistakeable, it’s his lyrics that tie everything together and the charm lies in the fact the two aspects of the band complement each other so beautifully.
As love seems to constantly evade and baffle him, Gedge presents himself as half egoist/half neurotic, singing tales of thwarted love, imagined love, double-crossed love, destroyed love, infidelity, bitter ends and false starts in words which are ever vulnerable, ever-barbed and perfectly timed. While nothing is glossed over, it’s no less poetic and the only person in recent times who could be said to match his deadpanning prowess is a certain Mr Alex Turner. This is a gritty account of relationships, an undeniably British, wry perception of love that never wore rose-tinted spectacles or promised a Hollywood ending. Indeed, as the penultimate track sadly laments, “This couple will never be strolling into a blood red setting sun/While the end credits are rolling”. The ability to incorporate both wit and wonder, their bittersweet take on romance, is an essential part of what makes the band so special and so unique. As the cornerstone of The Wedding Present for over 25 years in what has been, fittingly, an on-off tryst, the boy Gedge continues to triumph, even if the same can’t be said for his love life.