A new Wedding Present album after a four-and-a-half year break, and we’re into uncharted territory again. It involves some journey too – a North American East-West road-trip (and a half) from Kittery to Santa Monica via various points, initially suggesting the band’s GPS device is on the blink.
The title’s nod to Philip Larkin’s 1972 poem of the same name suggests a further underlying theme too, lamenting all we’re losing sight of at home and abroad as the years unfold. And there’s a sense of yearning across these 20 tracks, the closest we’ve come to a David Gedge concept album in three decades.
Don’t be put off by that concept notion, by the way, even if there’s another element built in – the accompanying DVD of moving photographs, with major input from David’s partner Jessica McMillan on that front. Besides, I’ll concentrate on the music here, steering away from the idea of taking someone else’s vision of what songs might be about. Sometimes I prefer a darkened room and my own slant on it all.
In the way that those who loved 1987 debut LP George Best had to get their head around 1989 follow-up Bizarro, then made an extra leap of faith to understand 1991’s more complex Seamonsters, and then had to come to grips with 1994’s Watusi (and I could say the same of the major gear shifts over the next four albums too), it’s fair to say we can still expect the unexpected from the Boy Gedge, nine studio albums in.
After just a couple of spins of this epic LP – set down and recorded between Brighton, Liverpool, Provence and Seattle – I was sold on the idea though, enjoying the thrill of not quite knowing what was coming next, Going Going … steadily growing, growing on me. And unless I’m mistaken we finally have a joint Cinerama and The Wedding Present venture here, incorporating winning elements of both projects.
While opening track Kittery offers a building block instrumental rising to an almighty sound-storm – Samuel Beer-Pierce’s swirling organ hinting at late ‘60s psychedelia – Greenland has Charles Layton’s sparse drum boom punctuate ex-Fall associate Brix Smith’s co-ordinate narration, with further over-the-water influence on Marblehead, a sort of Coen brothers meets David Lynch soundtrack built around Melanie Howard’s ethereal vocal, aided by Paul Hiraga.
That in turn gives rise to the evocative piano and strings-led Sprague, European cinema brought to mind this time, despite the ongoing American link, and maybe even a little Sigur Ros or The Magnetic North. Furthermore, there’s a realisation that we’re now 15 minutes in and for all intents and purposes we haven’t heard so much as a stretched vocal from David Lewis Gedge.
But that’s quickly rectified on Two Bridges, by which time you can almost sense the relief of TWP purists. Even then it’s not straight-forward though, a crescendo of buzzing bass, guitar and rasping percussion threatening to take us to other mighty realms. Little Silver then pins us briefly back again before the power in the electric guitars floods through, just when you think we might be on for a quiet moment, the choral accompaniment reined in.
From there we fall seamlessly into a part-cuddly, part-roaring Bear, reminding me of some of the finer Marmite moments on the wondrous Watusi, not least its glorious inter-locking harmonies. But just when we think we might be on to a hits section, gloriously-chaotic stormer Secretary reminds me of the quirky 1994 b-side cover of Marc Riley’s Jumper Clown and 1995’s off-kilter single Sucker, with Gedge almost Lydonesque, out of his comfort zone yet strapped in by Katharine Wallinger’s vocal responses and suitably supersonic guitar lines.
By now there’ll be knowing nods from loyal fans, with Birdsnest the latest fine addition to Gedge’s quality alternative songbook, and while Kill Devil Hills took me more listens to truly appreciate, it also fits. The under-stated Bells was also a slow-burner for me, but worth the wait, I reckon. Who could resist those six-string surges anyway? When this band are on their game they’re certainly incorrigible, even if we don’t always know the destination.
It’s more like Crazy Horse on the introduction of Fifty-six before David shifts gear and heads elsewhere again, careering towards a mighty riff of further ‘60s keyboard touches and Katharine’s rhythmic bass and Charles’ pounding beat. That euphoric finish might suggest we’ve already reached the album’s climax, but we’re still some distance away, unless of course Fordland (the parent song of Granadaland, he adds mischievously) indicates part one of an eight-track play-out.
Actually, Emporia seems to take us back to the choral vaults, an atmospheric outing that builds towards the afore-mentioned Neil Young backing band tackling the Spencer Davis Group’s Keep on Running before a Flying Saucer-esque departure. And then we have the magnificent Broken Bow, already among my many Weddoes’ favourites. I love the semi-acoustic version I heard on Seattle‘s K-EXP – Gedge joined by TWP alumnus and further Going Going … contributor Terry de Castro – yet the full-on electric version is all the more stunning. I’d have preferred at least another 30 seconds of guitar raunch tagged on, but this way we’re left hungry for more.
Where to from there? Well, David hems us briefly back before Lead gathers steam, augmented by a few more stirring woodwind moments, while Ten Sleep puts us back on the front-foot, its upbeat fiddle-like licks and RPM surges and falls leading us to almost expected climactic distortion.
It also leads us to the beautiful Wales, so to speak, Andrew Teilo – on a loan deal from Pobol y Cym presumably – introducing something of an arthouse cinematic wonder complemented by Steve Fisk’s mellotron and organ … and those mighty guitars of course. Cue the piano, cue the credits, cue the emotion.
Which kind of makes me realise the band who don’t do encores have ended their latest album with two spectacularly worthy ones, starting in classic DLG lovesong territory on penultimate pleaser Rachel. I’m beyond expecting a top-20 hit, but it bloody well should be.
And then, with those heart-strings tugged again, the sun sets on the US West Coast with another mighty slice of instant nostalgia, the pensive, picturesque (though again involving a surging crescendo) Santa Monica, its echoes of Octopussy making me ponder whether the band have perhaps delivered Seamonsters pt. 2, a quarter of a century on. Mind you, all the songs do sound the same anyway, don’t they?
Incidentally, just before I was about to push the button on this review, I felt I best go back and read my review of the last album, Valentina, back in 2012 (with a link here), and I spotted the line, ‘Just when you think you know where they’re going, Gedge and co. are off again, taking an unexpected fork’. No change there then. As I suggested earlier – expect the unexpected.
If this is a concept album it’s not an obvious one, despite the geographic ramblings and the Larkin around. I also can’t bring myself to accept the notion that the missing word in the title is Gone. Instead, I’ll wonder what Gedge and his band will deliver in the year 2020. And while I wonder at times if this might not have been even more a classic album with around four songs chipped off, I’m not convinced that less is more in this case.
One thing’s for sure though – if you haven’t yet heard Going Going … I’m somewhat jealous, knowing your own voyage of discovery – getting to know your way around this platter – is still ahead of you.
To get hold of a copy of The Wedding Present’s Going Going … or find out where David Gedge and co. are heading this autumn, visit the band’s official Scopitones website. You can also keep in touch via Facebook and Twitter.
And for a link back to a writewyattuk interview with David Gedge from two years ago, head here.