- Fountain of pain: The Wedding Present's latest breakup-inspired album is the band's first in eight years.
Moody, romantic, desperate, and dazzling, the Wedding Present specializes in gloomy pop songs about relationships gone awry, amplified by gorgeous, soaring guitars. Singer, chief songwriter, lead guitarist, and sole constant member David Gedge is fixated on the intricacies of being intensely jealous, getting dumped, making an ass of oneself, and leaving embarrassing messages on a former lover's answering machine.
The Leeds group is largely forgotten in the annals of Britpop, despite a dominant run in the late '80s and early '90s. But eight years after Gedge dissolved the group, a mid-'00s comeback might change all that. This year's Take Fountain, featuring the newest incarnation of a constantly shifting lineup, sounds very much like the dear old Wedding Present, which staked its reputation on lingering melodies, fierce drums, a thickly distorted guitar sound, and riffs that glided and snarled like vintage Pixies. Gedge, between gigs in Portsmouth, England, explains that he didn't resurrect the Wedding Present just to play the old tunes, though his current live set includes many of the band's classic singles.
"It's not a reunion," he says. "It's not like a band that re-forms and plays all of the old songs. It's more of a case of carrying on where we left off, I suppose. People have been enjoying the new stuff as much as the old stuff. It hasn't been like 'Boring, boring, boring!' and then we play an old song and it's 'Yea!' and then it's back to being bored again. I think people generally accept what we are doing. It's the band as we are today, really. It's the Wedding Present."
Somewhere between the intelligent, finely coifed I-don't-fit-in pop of the Smiths and the elaborate soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine lies the Wedding Present's somewhat sharper and heavier sound. Gedge's style has shifted a bit with each record: 1989's Bizarro is wound tight with a heavy rhythmic groove unique to that record, while 1991's Steve Albini-produced Seamonsters, often considered the Casablanca of the Wedding Present's catalog, is an ambitious, grandiose, starry-eyed epic.
In 1992, at the apex of the band's career, the WP released a seven-inch single every month in England, featuring one original and one cover song. That terrific, varied selection included "Falling," the theme from Twin Peaks; the Close Lobsters' "Let's Make Some Plans"; Altered Images' "Think That It Might"; and the Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday." All 12 singles charted in Britain, tying Elvis Presley's record of most hits in a year. (They're available stateside on the CDs Hit Parade 1 and 2.) Hardly commercial, the Wedding Present nonetheless managed 17 Top 40 singles in the U.K. (Although stateside, all this activity merely turned the band into a small cult hit.)
But after that blitz of inspired singles, several mediocre records followed, weakly anchored by a less-stirring guitar fixation. The Wedding Present's revolving-door lineup didn't help matters either. "Sometimes you realize that a person in the band is not working, and you have to get rid of them for the sake of the band to move on," Gedge explains. "That has happened a couple of times, where I had to ask people to leave. And then, other times, people have actually wanted to go. I think it's partly because they thought they'd join a rock group, travel the world, and play music, but then after a few years they start to miss their girlfriends, and it's quite hard work, I suppose. It's not just 90 minutes onstage. But I think that's been the strength of the band. I don't regret that people have come and gone, because it means that every once in a while, you have someone coming along with new input, and it can often give you a bit of a kick."
For the eight dormant years leading up to Take Fountain, Gedge indulged in a side project, Cinerama, that eventually became a full-time venture. The idea was to capture the lusty sound of movie scores by classy composers like John Barry (who scored the Bond films) and Ennio Morricone (spaghetti Westerns) -- Gedge now says that the project was "artistically liberating," but also "a commercial dive." After his former girlfriend and Cinerama collaborator Sally Murrell left the band, he found himself with a familiar guitar-bass-drums lineup, and the sound drifted back in Wedding Present's classic direction.
One constant in both projects is that the great majority of Gedge's lyrics tackle the same subject. "I tell people that I'm generally interested in relationships," he explains. "But I think I'm a little bit obsessed. I'm always fascinated by what people say to each other, and especially in situations where it's stressful, like the beginning of a relationship or the end. I think it's the perfect subject matter for pop music. My favorite songs, Motown or anything, have always been love songs and relationship-based songs. My lyrics tend to be my own experiences or those of friends of mine or conversations I've heard in the street. I've heard people arguing and thought, 'That's a great line for a song,' and I just get my little book out and write it down."
None of the Wedding Present's many albums was inspired by a particular woman, but Take Fountain was partly influenced by Gedge's breakup with Murrell, which ultimately might have helped it blossom into an impressive, sophisticated comeback record that wears its heart on its sleeve. Opener "Interstate 5" features the pounding drums reminiscent of the band's early-'90s output, while "Larry's" is one of Gedge's finest melancholy ballads, a beautiful song that consists chiefly of his voice and a tiny bit of guitar. Meanwhile, "Don't Touch That Dial" is a textbook example of a Wedding Present standard, using that same soft-loud-soft-loud formula that Fugazi and the Pixies mastered -- it starts out quiet and brooding, but eventually hits emotional peaks with fits of blaring noise.
On Take Fountain, Gedge has managed to capture that special, magical something that worked perfectly for him a decade ago. Once again, his pain is our pleasure.