In an age where reissues are relentless and labels seem to be scraping every available barrel in fear of physical media dying, it’s a rare and splendid thing when an act’s work is simultaneously done justice but not housed in an enormous box with accompanying tote bags, prints and needless trinkets for ludicrous amounts of money.
For these eight 3-CD/1-DVD packages, The Wedding Present frontman, songwriter and sole original member, David Gedge, went back to the tapes and pulled together a borderline definitive guide to one of the UK’s most enduring and unassuming bands. Traversing the first 12 years of the band’s career, the sheer quantity of music across these discs is almost overwhelming.
The endearingly rough-edged debut, ‘George Best’, was self-released in 1987 and still betrays the low budget with which it was recorded. It set a template for raw, passionate and heartfelt guitar music from which they have rarely deviated. Its weaknesses remain amongst its charms and, for all the attention awarded to 1991’s ‘Seamonsters’ – also included in these reissues – it’s hard not to love the lyrical acerbity of tracks like ‘What Did Your Last Servant Die Of?’ and ‘Give My Love To Kevin’. That it caught the attention of John Peel is unsurprising, and the many sessions the band recorded for him are spread across the bonus discs of the various reissues.
With money came a little extra heft and, upon signing to RCA, 1989’s ‘Bizarro’ was a heavier, scuzzier affair, but it built on what many had loved in those early years. The real sidestep came with their Steve Albini-produced third album, ‘Seamonsters’, with a ragged intensity defining its sound. Recorded in hasty fashion and with ominously concise track titles, it was a record pointedly detached from what had gone before and, as it transpired, from what was to come. It still stands up, 23 years after it first emerged, and remains their highest charting album, despite its angular atmosphere.
Far more commercial was what immediately followed: a hugely endearing campaign to release a single a month for the duration of 1992, anthologised at the time on ‘The Hit Parade’ compilation. A new track and cover graced each 7”, producing amusing readings of songs like ‘Theme From Shaft’ and ‘Step Into Christmas’. As tremendously cavalier a project as it seems in the digital download age, it is perhaps the least essential of all of these wonderful releases.
The mid-’90s were not especially kind to the band, despite the quality of their output holding up. Having opened an interesting door with their third studio record, the temptation to tinker remained and so 1994’s ‘Watusi’, emerging into the nascent stages of the Britpop janglefest, was a curiously 1960s-flecked, garage-pop album. It’s rather more enjoyable with 20 years of distance than it was at the time, the eerily wonky ‘Spangle’ a particular highlight.
By 1996, the first phase of the band was coming to a close, with a hiatus that would last until 2004 only a year away. Having released an enjoyable mini-album about cars entitled ‘Mini’, also somewhat improbably expanded to four discs, the curiously overlooked ‘Saturnalia’ served as a temporary full stop. Sharper production and some of Gedge’s finest songwriting in half a decade make for an absorbing listen, the tormented heartbreak of single ‘Montreal’ a particular highlight.
Pulling together previously released live tapes and the aforementioned Peel sessions, along with various B-sides and bonus tracks, and adding in a DVD with contemporary TV performances, new acoustic renditions and small but enlightening interviews with Gedge about each release has made these the standard against which all other deluxe reissues should be judged. The music isn’t always perfect, but this is a fitting repackaging of one of Britain’s finest bands.
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