For nearly 30 years, Gedge, either as The Wedding Present or Cinerama, has been a permanent fixture on the indie-rock landscape, perpetually broken-hearted in a very gruff, Northern way. Although there’s never really any big surprises on a Wedding Present album, from the opening chords of You’re Dead, Valentina feels like an old friend has popped round to catch up.
Yet, partly due to Gedge’s penchant for freshening up his band’s line-up with each release, nothing feels stale here. There are nice little touches aplenty on Valentina – the long, slow coda on the aforementioned You’re Dead, some backing vocals in German on the appropriately titled The Girl From The DDR, and even what sounds like a Dragons Den reference on End Credits (“I’m not happy anymore – and for that reason, I’m out”).
Although there’s no Steve Albini this time round, the sound is still as intense as ever – check out the introduction to Meet Cute or the last feedback-soaked minute of Back A Bit…Stop to hear exactly how hard The Wedding Present can rock. But there’s a lightness of touch here too – the bouncy Deer Caught In The Highlights and sweet harmonies of 524 Fidelio compare to the best moments on Bizarro.
Gedge’s lyrics are as finely observed as ever. Meet Cute is a typically self-deprecating account of meeting a girl (“in case it isn’t clear, you’re really well out of my league”), the adrenaline rush of Back A Bit..Stop starts with a declaration of love – “every single thing about my so-called life was boring, until you exploded into my world” before it becomes clear that the lady concerns has a “lovely fiance”, while Stop Thief sees a suitor wooing Gedge’s love away from him.
There’s no moping around though, despite the heartbreak and loss of the lyrics. This is The Wedding Present’s tightest, most focused album in years with just 10 tracks full of fuzzy guitars and bucketloads of energy. There’s even a touch of hope and wonder at the end, on the closing track Mystery Date, a brilliantly written description of the flush of first love, with Gedge wailing that “things like this do not happen to me” as the guitars soar around him.
It may not convince those who wrongly deride Gedge and company for writing bleak, depressing songs that all sound the same. Yet for the faithful, and even anyone who’s heard the name but never the music, this is the same old wonderful stuff from one of our finest songwriters.