They may have put out an EP and chanced upon a self-mocking T-shirt slogan in 1990 with the wryly entitled ‘All The Songs Sound The Same’, but unlike Spinal Tap, the musical growth rate of The Wedding Present really can be charted.
It’s hard to credit that the same band who knocked out the ramshackle indie-pop clatter of "Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy!" in 1985 were responsible for the scabrous, soul-baring emotional maelstrom of Seamonsters just over half a decade later, but this collection of deluxe re-issues on the Edsel imprint of Demon (eight albums spanning 1987 to 1996) helps map out a truly fascinating career trajectory.
The wonderful debut LP George Best (1987) is dealt with in-depth here; a rough-around-the-edges Tommy (1988) compilation following a year later. This gathered together the band’s first limited-release offerings for Reception and Strange Fruit as well as some early John Peel session tracks, including the breathless "Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy!" and "This Boy Can Wait", which also featured as the closing cut on NME’s landmark C86 cassette.
A beefier follow-up Bizarro (1989) contained "Kennedy", the band’s first top 40 hit, amongst another run of brassy northern kitchen-sink vignettes. Reflecting the transatlantic alt-rock zeitgeist, the band sound grungier, and the production is a little more hard-edged. Yet Gedge’s blunt Yorkshire vowels remain reassuringly integral on the chorus of "Brassneck", and he’s still good for a knowing one-liner, as in "What Have I Said Now?" (“I'm not being unfair! OK, I am, but who cares...?”)
The third studio LP, proto-sadcore behemoth Seamonsters (1991), heralds a major department from the formative Wedding Present sound. As evidenced by its austere single-word song titles, this is a proper adult break-up record akin to Blood On The Tracks or Tunnel Of Love. The circumstances of its conception (recorded in a studio in rural Minnesota, produced by Steve Albini and released just a few months before Nirvana’s all-conquering Nevermind) all shout out loud - WE ARE NOT A PAROCHIAL, JANGLY INDIE BAND ANYMORE! Tracks such as "Dare" might appear not so far removed from the band’s early narrative themes, but Solowka’s playing now sounds far rougher than it did in the early days, and Gedge’s girl trouble just seems far more, well... troubling. The slow-building, starkly confessional "Dalliance" emerges gently before the bitterness and the guitars are both ramped up (“But I was yours for seven years/Is that what you call a dalliance?”) The tortured "Lovenest" descends into convulsive meltdown after Gedge recounts the intimate details of a stop-gap rebound fling. "Blonde", utilizing a ragged Pixies-style loud/quiet template is just devastating, with the singer immersed in self-loathing following the collapse of a relationship: “Yes, I was that naïve” he howls in revulsion. There’s a moment of wonderful pathos after a live version on the third disc on this new deluxe edition, as Gedge contends with a heckler just moments after a blistering rendition: “Ooh, that’s not very nice, is it? Swearing?”
With a new band line-up in place behind Gedge, some light relief is provided via The Hit Parade (1992), which immortalizes The Weddoes’ record-breaking wheeze of releasing one 7- inch single every month for a year. A cover of Neil Young’s "Don’t Cry No Tears", originally to be found on the b-side of "Go-Go Dancer", adds to the quirky charm, even if the lyrics (“Well I wonder who's with her tonight? And I wonder who's holding her tight?/But there's nothing I can say/To make him go away...”) are in actual fact pretty darn Gedge-worthy in the first place.
1994’s Watusi was recorded with Steve Fisk in Seattle during grunge’s heyday, and is being toured this autumn across the UK to mark its 20th anniversary. Here we find surf guitar instrumentals, garage-rock clattering ("Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah") and classic Wedding Present slow burn weepies (‘Spangle.’) The Britpop-era contributions include the auto-themed Mini (1995), which manages to negate both parts of Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout’s insistence that “Some things hurt much more than cars and girls”, and then Saturnalia (1996), which was unveiled a couple of years before Gedge would take an extended break from The Wedding Present and launch sophisti-pop project Cinerama. It’s a collection of mostly low-key, snappy indie-rock moments in which the vocalist sounds, briefly, as though he’s found some peace ("Real Thing": “This is what love should be about/This is a feeling I never want to be without”) but "Hula Doll" addresses middle-aged temptation. And that he still rhymes “mistake” with “heartbreak” on ‘50s’ should prove re-assuring for any old-school Weddoes fan.