Album Review: The Wedding Present

Here's a question: Does the world really need another black-T-shirted, middle-aged guy taking his band back once again into the studio and onto the road, to pedal what are essentially just straightforward love songs with loud guitars? Is wrestling fixed? Was Humpty-Dumpty fat? Does the Pope wear a funny hat? These and similar rhetorical answers to the question are more than appropriate when the band referred to are frequently as spot-on in their output as The Wedding Present.

The Wedding Present (now going since 1985) are one of those bands that people either love or hate. The singing style of David Gedge, at least in the early days - one part low-mixed mumblings, one part conversational - does put off some folk, as does the noisy/quiet guitar dynamic that can be a somewhat obvious hook. On the other hand, these exact same factors can turn some into truly dedicated fans (in the literal sense of near-fanatic) devoted to Gedge's 'intimate' vocal manner and the visceral simplicity of the songs.

Take for example the band's cover of Julee Cruise's Falling (aka the theme from Twin Peaks) - either side could use the track as being the epitome of what they either adore or despise about The Wedding Present. On a personal note, I used to have a habit of locking my friends in a darkened room with just that song played on a stereo very loud in order to 'gauge their opinion' - so no prizes for guessing which camp I fall in ...

Preamble over. This week saw the release of Valentina, the band's 9th (or arguably 11th) LP after having been heralded shortly beforehand with You Jane and the leading track from the album You're Dead, which now also has a promo film produced by Nick Power.

You're Dead is almost TWP-by-numbers, finely polished for 2012. Fast bits, slow bits. Loud bits, quiet bits. Wry, acerbic boy/girl lovesong with a contradictory conclusion (You're not the one for me I know, but I just can't seem to let you go. You appall me. OK, call me). This could be from any Wedding Present album from the last 20-plus years. Nothing revolutionary, nothing too unexpected - but why change when you can write songs like this that tick all the boxes, every section feels like it was meant to be right were it is, nothing superfluous included - just excellently uncomplicated, sharp songwriting that lyrically is about as honest and personal as it gets.

Nine more tracks and these themes are held throughout and carried off with what is probably a deceptive ease. It's actually quite difficult to pick out one or more stand-out songs as they all seem to have been put together with enough passion and care to ensure that to all do exactly what it says on the tin - deliver Wedding Present songs, 100% distinctive. Even though it's probably rather facetious to say it - they're all pretty much great cracking tracks. Perhaps Deer Caught in the Headlights has a tiny edge over the rest but that's more than likely just a personal thing.

The current incarnation of band seems none the less rich for recent personnel changes (bassist Terry de Castro having been recently replaced by Pepe le Moko), if anything the 'fresh blood' brings not only great taste in black T-Shirts, but also a sound that comes close to the energy of early 90s albums like Bizarro and Seamonsters - both classics to which Valentina can stand up against without feeling too out of place.

Currently the band are on tour across North America, Australia and Hong Kong, with plans to play the Liverpool Sound City Festival in May, the Spanish Primavera in June and annual dual dates in Yorkshire (At The Edge Of The Peaks) and Brighton (At The Edge Of The Sea) across August Bank Holiday weekend. The latter will definitely see this reviewer attending.

Presumably, anyone who dislikes The Wedding Present from the start will not have read this far anyway, so for those that remain and are fanatics - well, you're going to buy the LP come what may anyhow? Good. You'll love it. For the mildly interested (there must be one or two) - give it a shot, this is what 4-minute noisy guitar pop songs can end up being like with years of experience behind you. I'm not going to say perfect, but in the 'Idiot's Guide to Writing Excellent Tunes' you can be assured that there's a whole number of references to The Wedding Present in the footnotes.