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When a band lasts as long as The Wedding Present, one has to wonder how they keep it interesting after three decades. But you also have to give David Gedge props for keeping the creative fires burning. I cannot count myself as a long time Wedding Present fan or completist; it’s only in the past few years that I’ve really gorged on their great singles, thanks to the many excellent collections that have emerged on Cherry Red Records.
It’s never been lack of interest on my part, it’s more like lack of time in keeping up with so many bands from that long ago era. However, I am always happy to see old school bands making great music today, and not just rehashing their old hits with endless, boring live tours. So here we are in 2016, two years after the well received Valentina, and Gedge has dropped a very long album with ambient tracks interspersed between the usual tried and true noise-drenched pop he does so well. And he’s got one heck of a great backing band to boot on this ninth album.
The record is available in multiple formats: standard CD plus DVD, deluxe CD plus DVD in a hard-bound ‘book pack’ with extra tracks and lyrics, and a deluxe double 180g LP plus DVD with extra tracks and lyrics. Gedge crossed the US in 2014 with a photographer and they made short films to accompany what he considers to be interconnected songs. I must admit, I was a bit confused when I first played the album on hearing four, ambient pieces. I really thought I had the wrong band’s music in hand. I am not sure how other fans will react, but I know it caught me by surprise.
With some ambient music, you wonder what the point is? Clearly David Gedge had something in mind when he decided to open the album with the moody “Kittery”. Are we talking Maine here, or somewhere else? Kittery has never particularly struck me as anything special, other than being a mecca for outlet shoppers. Perhaps Gedge is painting the drudgery of such a recreational bent with this minor key tone poem. But I can only surmise, since there is no background information on any of these songs. In any case, “Kittery” turns into a bombastic, prog rock instrumental by the time it winds down around the five minute mark. Interesting, but hardly essential.
The three minute “Greenland” is even stranger, punctuated at its start by the slow pounding of drums and somebody reading off latitude and longitude. There is some fuzzed out synth in the backdrop, but none of it registers for me. “Marblehead” (could be the Massachusetts seaside town) has a lovely female vocal (Katharine Wallinger) singing notes but no words, and then a gently plucked guitar joins in. I like its light, pastoral feel and it fades out in a pleasant haze. “Sprague” is the fourth and final instrumental selection, and it’s a short, pretty piano driven piece with lovely strings. No, it’s not going to rock your world, but it might make your day a little better just by hearing it. I like to see groups branch out from their normal style, and this mostly striking introduction to this release is the calm before the storm.
“Two Bridges” is punky power pop with Gedge’s lyrical penchant for writing on relationships. It is a respectable 3:57 with some nice melodic twists. “Little Silver” is quieter for a short time, and Gedge has more introspection and quite excellent lyrics here. “Bear” starts off with feedback and then edges back slightly to let in David’s vocals. Once again, the lyrics are clever and thoughtful. I also like Katharine’s vocal work here. “Secretary” is cynical and funny, all backed by rocket fast percussion and strumming.
“Birdsnest” is an odd ditty, punctuated by small melodic bursts and off kilter bass lines. “Kill Devil Hills” is jagged and fun, with cool organ, fast drumming, and raw guitar. “Bells” is one of my favorite tunes, with unexpected tempo shifts, a solid melodic hook, and good, insightful lyrics. “Fifty Six” is definitely about aging, while “Fordland” (Detroit, possibly?) mulls over what has been left behind. The song structure is a bit complex, and the song is shorter than it could have been. “Emporia” is lovely and once again focuses on a relationship, though I’m not sure if it’s the narrator’s or someone else’s. “Broken Bow” is cool and noisy, with those crunchy, loud guitars I dig so much.
“Ten Sleep” is upbeat, spiky, and another decent lyrical outing for Gedge. “Wales” starts off with Gedge talking in Welsh (I can only assume) and the rest is an instrumental. “Rachel” is a lovely song, and I like the melodic layers as well as the vocals here. “Santa Monica” is the final tune on this lengthy album, and at ten minutes, it’s a bit excessive. Perhaps it was the end of Gedge’s journey, and thus it is fitting that it resides at the end of this song suite. But I think he could have trimmed it way back and still have a good tune. Perhaps, what Gedge really needs here, is an editor. The entire record veers off in many stylistic directions, some of them perplexing, and while I’m sure there’s some logical sense to it all, as a listener, I didn’t get the point of some of it. Still, it’s a curious and interesting listening experience, and Weddoes fans should definitely seek this one out.