For the last 17 years, Cinerama have acted as the ying to The Wedding Present’s yang. Both acts are fronted by David Gedge and, while The Wedding Present continue to plough a furrow as purveyors of meat-and-potatoes indie rock, Cinerama have provided an outlet for Gedge’s interest in orchestral pop.
Valentina, Cinerama’s fourth studio album, is an interesting proposition. It’s the fulfilment of Gedge’s long-held ambition for his two bands to produce alternative versions of the same source material, namely the 2012 album of the same name by The Wedding Present. The results are 11 markedly different takes on the same songs.
Cinerama’s Valentina is an enjoyable listen in its own right: freed from The Wedding Present’s musical austerity (the band rarely stray beyond the classic guitar-guitar-bass-drums framework), Gedge has clearly had a whale of a time masterminding the album’s opulent arrangements of string, piano and woodwind.
But Valentina (by Cinerama) naturally demands to be held up against Valentina (by The Wedding Present). This compare-and-contrast exercise yields some entertaining results. On the original album, The Girl From The DDR was a slightly cloying mid-tempo number, but here it finds its true vocation as a sweeping, string-laden number that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the last Dexys record. Back A Bit… Stop – a frenetic banger on the 2012 album – is transformed into suave disco-lite. On The Wedding Present’s album, Mystery Date was a noisy, guitar-crunching epic; Cinerama’s take is a pared-down piano ballad.
Taken as a whole, though, Cinerama’s Valentina is the inferior work. The Wedding Present might be the Greenwich Mean Time of indie rock bands – dependable, unchanging – but they’ve always been adept at avoiding musical stagnation. On Valentina, The Wedding Present’s twitchy tempo changes and agitated guitars acted as the perfect backdrop to Gedge’s typically neurotic outpourings on love.
On Cinerama’s Valentina, the cinematic arrangements occasionally act as a pleasingly ironic counterpoint to the pettiness of the words. You’re Dead’s petulant kiss-off is re-moulded as cocktail jazz, while Stop Thief!’s warning to a love rival (“You could have anyone you want / so why not pick some debutante … not her”) now resides within a country-soul ballad reminiscent of something off Lambchop’s Nixon.
At other times, though, Gedge’s lyrics feel like they’re weighing the album down and preventing it from soaring. Gedge has always been something of a monomaniacal lyricist, focusing on the trials of relationships to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. On Valentina, it’s hard not to roll one’s eyes as our narrator deploys textbook passive-aggression (“I really hope he’s the one for you / who makes all your dreams come true … Just don’t come crying to me / this is the way you wanted it to be”) and moves from one potentially calamitous situation to the next (“of course I’d like to fall head over heels but there’s the question of your lovely fiancé” (Back A Bit… Stop); “I’ve been using you all this time … I’ve realised that I’m never gonna leave my girlfriend for you” (The Girl From The DDR)). The Wedding Present’s Valentina had enough noise and energy for this not to be problematic; Cinerama’s version of the album, however, exposes the words and lays bare their stultifying sameiness.
Gedge’s initial plan was to release both versions of Valentina simultaneously, and perhaps that would have benefitted Cinerama’s version, bringing into focus the strengths of the source material and highlighting Gedge’s musical versatility. As it is, Cinerama’s new(-ish) album emerges as not much more than an entertaining curio.