It’s funny how old albums in your collection can surprise you after a lengthy absence. I’ve filled several shelves and boxes with CDs, cassettes, and vinyl records over the years. Some of the stacks have secondary stuff I never liked much in the first place — crappy demos, promos, freebies, and low-budget comps I should probably toss. But much of the collection includes albums and EPs of bands that made an impression — discs and tapes vital to my own listening history over the last 20 years.
Last winter, I ran across three albums by British pop-rock band The Wedding Present, an old college radio favorite of mine fronted by the refreshingly unassuming and unpretentious singer/guitarist David Gedge. I got on one of my usual kicks, spinning 1989’s Bizarro, 1991’s Seamonsters, and 1994’s Watusi endlessly over a two-week binge. The jangly but densely rhythmic Bizarro got the most play.
The elegantly stiff, fast-paced singles “Kennedy” (a grinding but melodic pop gem based loosely on the assassination of the U.S. president) and “Brassneck” (a mixed-bag tell-off to an unfaithful girlfriend) remain the strongest tracks. Both reflect Gedge’s witty and delicately sarcastic take on love and troubled relationships.
With an odd but potent lyrical mix of love, angst, lust, and jealousy (plus loads of nervous musical energy), The Wedding Present established itself in the early ’90s as one of the U.K.’s top standouts. These days, their vibrant guitar-pop style sounds as fresh and excitable as ever.
By the time the band started hitting the charts with a string of guitar-driven singles, the more fashionable stars of the burgeoning Britpop scene were landing on MTV and domestic college radio airwaves. Compared to the flashy, high-tech stylings of major label acts like Jesus Jones and EMF, The Wedding Present had more in common musically and stylistically with the so-called “Madchester scene” (led by jumpy/druggy bands like The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, and Inspiral Carpets). But they never really fit in with any of it.
Under Gedge’s guidance, The Wedding Present came together in the northern city of Leeds in 1985. Late BBC host John Peel recorded the quartet’s first radio session in 1986. Their debut album George Best (named in honor of the British football star) came out on the Reception label in 1987. The jangly power-pop caught critics’ ears, as did Gedge’s nasally, low-toned delivery. He sounded almost like The Smiths’ Morrissey with a head cold (or The Fall’s Mark E. Smith singing in key).
This month, in continued celebration of the 20th anniversary of Bizarro‘s release, The Wedding Present plan to perform all of the tracks, from top to bottom, at gigs in Europe and the U.S. Gedge and his latest troupe — drummer Charles Layton, bassist Terry de Castro, and guitarist Graeme Ramsay — have already performed the Bizarro set at shows around Britain and the West Coast.
Bizarro is full of almost wrist-breakingly uptempo songs. Gedge’s rhythm guitar work on “Crushed” and “Granadaland” rivals the frenzied style of “Kennedy” and “Brassneck” in particular. The band took the idea of playing fast, hard, and repetitively to an extreme 20 years ago. The physicality of delivering it all on stage was a major challenge for Gedge and company.
They headline a night at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Ga., on Thurs. Aug. 12 as part of the town’s massive 2010 Athens PopFest (scheduled for Aug. 10-14).
I might just drop everything, grab those three dusty CDs, and hit the road for a loud dose of Bizarro.