Once again it’s ‘kiss and make up’ time for a band of yesteryear, in this case the group hugs being performed by Marti Pellow and chums. Of all the reunions lately this one would have seemed less likely than most – the band didn’t talk for five years until the funeral of Pellow’s mother, and Pellow’s frequently documented drug habit nearly staked a claim on his life, let alone his musical career. You’d have thought the band might want to leave well alone, with their surprise success story of the 80s and 90s enough of an achievement to rest on the laurels.
Not so – there remains unfinished business, according to drummer Graham Cunningham. And of course what better time to reunite, with a Christmas record market ripe for the taking?! So as the cynic in me recedes it’s time to re-examine the old and cast an ear over the new material.
It’s likely the boys still have a loyal fanbase, even if those who were teenagers with teddies to throw at the lead singer are now using them to pacify their own children. After one listen however it is startlingly apparent that the band’s best material comes from the Popped In, Souled Out era. In particular Wishing I Was Lucky still sounds fresh, vital and contains the soulful edge that characterises their best music. So too for Sweet Little Mystery, Angel Eyes and Temptation – less sheen to the production here, plenty of bite on the piano and some subtle string touches around the edges.
The further into the ’90s the music goes and the fuller the polished production becomes – witness the bombastic opening to Love Is All Around, the overblown climax to Julia Says, Pellow hitting a bizarre note on the way. By the time we reach Don’t Want To Forgive Me Now, Wet Wet Wet have arrived at the middle of the road, their daytime radio at a comfortable volume level.
So the question remains – how were they so successful? A lot seems to be down to the crooning Pellow, whose voice mellowed somewhat from the buttock clenching heights of Angel Eyes to something more restrained for the chart toppers. There’s no doubt the band were in the right place at the right time – Four Weddings And A Funeral wouldn’t have been the same without Love Is All Around, which surely would have beaten Bryan Adams‘ chart record if Pellow hadn’t insisted it be deleted.
Meanwhile, amongst the other number ones A Little Help From My Friends wouldn’t have impressed too many Beatles fans, despite the enthusiastic treatment it received, while Goodnight Girl, the only self-penned song to reach the summit, has a wistful tug at the heart strings. Some pretty good stuff lies in the minor hits too – Strange has a good chorus and brass section to support the singer.
The obligatory new stuff doesn’t sound too brilliant however. Lip Service has a stumbling rhythm, and while it’s intriguing to hear Pellow sing of his addiction as he does in Hear Me Now, the voice is harshly treated by post production.
Altogether then, a deserved retrospective for a band who’ve contributed a surprising amount to British pop in the last two decades. What it really does though is emphasise how much better they were fifteen years ago.