I'm Picking Up Good Variations...
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
I wrote a review of The Wedding Present live last week, and it got lots of hits, which in theory is great. But much of this was triggered by their singer / leader David Gedge responding to a tweet where I shared the review.
Gedge is lovely and thanked me for the review, but took issue with a comment I made about them, where I said for my friends who don't know them, they had “been making variations of the same record for the last 35+ years”. He felt there was significant variance between albums like Take Fountain and George Best or Seamonsters and Watusi. And he is right, their sound evolved and grew.
I apologised, as the last thing I wanted to do was cause offence, but as another commentator responded to him, the review was basically a love letter. It was a throwaway line as I explained, not the focus of the review. But the tweets continued…not many but I was criticised for saying that David looks a little like Alastair Darling since he stopped dying his hair (he does! I also said how good he looks and how it’s nice he is being himself!). Others called me lazy, another said she didn’t care about my bloody friends. Wow.
Don’t get me wrong, this is nothing, a few comments. But I really feel for people who properly blow up on Twitter. But there were several people who really took offence to a fairly innocuous statement that was well intended and not the focus of the review. The whole exchange made me go back and consider my comment. Plus one Tweeter (is that what we call Twitter users? I really don’t know) kindly said I should stick to my guns, rather than apologise. On reflection, he is right.
To be honest, when you look back at the Wedding Present’s catalogue, the albums are variations. There is no drum’n’bass detour…their late 90s reggae period remains sadly unrecorded.
All the albums are basically male vocals, two guitars, bass guitar and drums, plus occasional female backing vocals. Over their development, the guitars got heavier, with a stronger American influence shaping their sound over time. Yes, Take Fountain is clearly influenced by Gedge’s move to the States and it’s very different from Saturnalia. But it’s not unrecognisable….all the albums (to me at least) sound like The Wedding Present. It’s the same as The Fall - all albums basically sound like The Fall, no matter how many members they had and how different the sound was...each album is a variation of the others. Some had more radical turns, some were fairly consistent (basically depending on how many members Mark E Smith had fired between recordings).
And that is fine. In fact it’s more than fine, it’s brilliant. Because I love that original Wedding Present sound. And I love the way it developed and evolved. But none of the albums are a radical sharp turns to my mind. I didn’t want them to be. I want to hear songs that sound like them. Yes, some evolution, yes some change, but not radical. I want a variation. More importantly, they are variations on great - there are no bad Wedding Present albums.
They did make some real change when Gedge and Sally Murrell paused The Wedding Present to become Cinerama. The sound was more expansive, different instrumentation as used, more strings, and keys - it was baroque'n'roll. When he resurrected The Wedding Present in 2004, that pop/strings experimentation went, replaced by a harder guitar sound but basically the Weddoes we knew and loved.
And that’s really what we want from bands, because few are really any good at the radical turns. Some clearly are - Bowie was the master chameleon, able to go from glam to soul to funk to ice cold synths to pop to drum’n’bass to pop to jazz. Prince was funk, pop, psychedelic, rock, r’n’b, rap - a genuine innovator and a whirling dervish. Bjork has embraced punk, pop, electronics, trip hop, jazz, and more recently much more extravagant string productions. Similarly, Madonna really changed, from disco, pop, electronic, ambient, musical theatre, house, and so much more (though frankly her last two albums are shocking!). And Damon Albarn changes his musical styles so much, it’s simultaneously thrilling and infuriating. But never boring.
But ultimately, I don't think making variations is a bad thing at all and it was never meant as a criticism. In fact I love them and long may The Wedding Present continue to give me good variations and good excitations...