Review Summary: A soundtrack for the everyman who's experienced the loves and losses of normal life.
In my opinion this is Indie rock at its finest, an album so totally alive and its as fresh sounding now as it was on its release in 1991.
Buy it, you’ve already
“What the hell is that noise?” quizzed my new girlfriend whilst we were enjoying a country drive on a romantic sunny Sunday afternoon.
“I can’t hear anything” I said, moving my ear closer to the steering wheel, thinking there was something wrong with the engine.
“No, I’m referring to this music” the disdain held in her voice was clear.
I was initially shocked, then angry, but I swallowed hard and thought ‘you aren’t gonna last long darling.’
That was ten years ago and this is now.
The girlfriend is now my wife and the music was The Wedding Present. To be really precise the song was Dalliance taken from the album Seamonsters.
I have a long standing love for The Wedding Present, but the birth of this affection is slightly strange. The love that someone grows for a particular band tends to follow a familiar path. You hear a tune on the radio or via a recommendation, you then buy the song, enjoy it, then start pursuing back catalogue material, uncovering a plethora of brilliance, constantly gorging yourself on better and better songs
It’s odd experience then, if the first song you hear by a band happens to be one of the best songs that they’ve ever produced and in fact ends up being YOUR favourite song of all time.
This is what happened to me with the song Dalliance. I heard it via John Peel’s radio show, I missed what it was called and who it was by - and it took me an age to find out, this of course was in pre-internet 1992.
Once I tracked the artist down, I purchased Seamonsters and Dalliance became my favourite song of all time, which then begs the question have all things ‘Wedding Present’ that I’ve heard since been a complete let down?
In short, no. All Wedding Present albums are different and they’ve each been a joy to discover, plus there are literally dozens of songs that have come within a gnat’s hair of being as good.
Dalliance is my favourite mainly due to the significance it holds for me (as well as being a stonking good tune.) It’s poked its head above the emotional parapet at certain key events in my life, among others, it reminds me of the early courtship with my wife and it’s also been a break-up tune of choice.
In fact Seamonsters is a great break-up album full stop. It’s not a break up album in the mould of your normal tear-jerking, dark corner simpering, wallowing self pity fare. It’s an aggressive, drinking fifty beers, bouncing on the sofa whilst air guitaring type of grief-ridder.
Originally released in 1991 and recorded in Minnesota over an eleven day period, it marked a slight change in style for the Wedding Present, out went the jangly guitars of previous albums, in came darker, stabbing ones, closely followed through the door by more rumbly bass sounds.
Jangly? Rumbly? Are these the words of a coherent review? Is incorrect descriptive nomenclature being used delibrately? Can one single review have too many question marks?
Who knows, but it best describes the main change between Seamonsters and its predecessors, Bizarro and George Best. A change that was hinted at when Steve Albini was brought on board to re-engineer the great Bizarro single Brassneck, resulting in a darker, jerkier version of the song (jerkier?) That sounded great.
Albini rocked up to produce Seamonsters and carried through the louder, more aggressive theme. Albini’s name gets checked everytime Seamonsters is mentioned, normally qualified with words like ‘noise monger’ or ‘volume fiend’ or even ‘grinding-grunge aficionado’. He does indeed seem to lend some weight behind the more distorted feel of the record, resulting in a more full bodied feel but I think he just knew how to get the best sound out of the band. Songs like Niagara and Heather are good examples of this, all harsh edges and sudden tempo changes.
One thing that he didn’t tinker with was the normal ‘lost love’ lyrics of front man David Gedge. As normal he was fully locked in the mode of ‘boy next door meets girl next door who breaks his heart’ simplicity. And this is what makes Seamonsters good, we can all relate to the stories being told. They’re straight forward, we’ve all been there, epics, they’re not dressed up in any unnecessary, over-dramatic, damp eyed imagery.
I suppose I should reference certain lyrics here to quantify these statements, but it’s pointless, because you need to actually sit down and listen to the songs yourself. Take Corduroy for example, the whole song is a lament to universally felt break-up experiences.
To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s Corduroy in a nutshell - lost love, found love, do I still want love? I reckon I do, but not sure, ‘cos I got hurt before, oh and by the way I threw away all those dodgy pornographic photos we took of us two together.’
Am I wrong? That’s what the song says to me.
Dare follows similar patterns, a simple song about pleading with a girl to sleep with you and be unfaithful to someone else, she’s not sure, so you try a bit of reverse psychology, saying it’s just a bit of fun etc.
Both these examples are beautifully wrapped up in a distorted, shimmering envelope of guitars and stamped with punchy drum work - and it’s that combination that makes it a pleasure to listen to. It’s traditional lost love all right, but its told so LOUDLY.
Now this is where the appeal of The Wedding Present breaks down to the casual listener (like my girlfriend-cum-wife) all they tend to hear is the distortion, the unrelenting reverberating noise and can’t seem to get past it. When I play Seamonsters to friends they don’t actually listen to the music, they simply hear it and there is a major difference. And one you’ll need to get past to appreciate this album.
Not that the album is without its calmer side, Rotterdam & Carolyn being prime examples. Although Carolyn still can’t resist finishing off with a soundtrack of wonderfully layered guitars.
The album was re-mastered and re-released in 2001 and came complete with a full colour booklet, single b sides, plus the inclusion of the ‘3 Songs’ EP.
The 3 Songs EP was released in 1990 as a pre-cursor to Seamonsters, it contained a different version of Corduroy and a cover version of Come up & See Me (Make me Smile). But what makes this a really worthwhile inclusion concerns the other song on the EP, the truly epic Crawl.
This alone is such a fantastic song, why it was never deemed good enough for inclusion on the original album beats me but the re-release is a much richer experience for it.
Again this is a good example of a song that needs to be listened to rather than just heard, the lyrics are good, but unremarkable this time, but the clever structure and gradual building of sound makes this a pleasure. A hint of acoustic guitar, trampled on immediately by a big ‘boinging’ bass and before you know it, here comes our old friend Mr Soaring Distorted Guitar, welcome back Sir. The murmured vocals, the pounding drums, this my friends is better than sex.
Which returns us nicely back to Dalliance, why is it such a great song? Many have listened to it and probably think I’m mad for my fevered fandom. Read on and I’ll try to explain, although the next few paragraphs do contain ‘song spoilers’ so if you want to be surprised during your ‘virgin listen’ stop reading now!
The song is deceptively simple, it starts so quietly you can barely hear it, so you inevitably turn up your stereo to listen.
Initially you’re presented with a short, repetitive, song structure with a fantastically catchy guitar hook that never seems to want to quit. Each time the chorus is sang there seems to be a slight (and I mean slight) more emphasis behind it. This burbles along for exactly 2 minutes 46 seconds until suddenly (and I mean suddenly) you are severely punished for messing with the volume as the song EXPLODES into all manner of grinding guitars hell bent on causing your ears some damage. An angry David Gedge rant ensues until the song falls back into the familiar pattern experienced at the start but the wailing and grinding of the guitars remain on the same course. The song builds to a crescendo and just as you’re wondering what will come next, almost fearing what comes next, it stops dead.
Its indie rock at its finest, its’ so totally alive, it’s pure theatre encapsulated in 4 minutes, 25 seconds and for me, it’s never ever been skipped when my iPod shuffles to it.
That as they say is the mark of a true champion.
Oh and I’ve just realised that I haven’t even mentioned tracks like Octopussy or Suck yet...... well perhaps I’ll leave those for you to discover.
Buy it, you’ve already lived too much of your life without it.