Late last year, word surfaced that the pioneering alt rock band the Wedding Present would release a new record in early 2005, its first in eight years. A bit later, a scrappy young group called McLusky said that it was calling it quits.
Aside from the fact that they both hail from the United Kingdom — the Wedding Present is English; McLusky, Welsh — and that both have worked with studio mastermind Steve Albini, the two bands have very little in common. One makes deeply earnest records packed with lyrics about failed relationships. The other views life through a thick lens of irony, with song titles like “Without MSG I Am Nothing” and “She Will Only Bring You Happiness.”
But as McLusky departs and the Wedding Present returns, it’s worth having a look at the bands’ divergent worldviews, if only to be reminded that there are different ways to make compelling music.
David Gedge, the Wedding Present’s singer and songwriter, has long been one of British rock’s most darkly magnetic figures. Yes, fatalistic lyrics are a perennial indie rock staple, but Gedge was particularly tortured. He was forever phoning ex-lovers, only to be greeted by the men who’d replaced him; he could often be found slumped in a corner watching a woman he cared for storming out of his life; he was never satisfied with an ex’s reasons for breaking it off. As he once put it, “I think I’d be more angry, if your answers weren’t so daft!”
Though he’s stayed active since the band broke up almost a decade ago — making records with the band Cinerama — Gedge’s decision to reassemble the Wedding Present was cause for some trepidation. Would Gedge still be the overgrown, brokenhearted schoolboy he was across a series of Wedding Present records during the late ’80s and ’90s? And if he were, would he sound silly, a middle-aged man crying out like a teenager?
As it happens, the band’s new album, released this month, is not transcendent — but it’s pretty strong all the same. Gedge’s resistance to a mature worldview has the makings of a disastrous record — he is, after all, a solipsist, a personality type that generally does not age well. But his brand of self-absorption is thoughtful, and he can turn a phrase better than most of his indie rock brethren.
Consider the first single, for example, a song called “Interstate 5.” It’s about a woman “just in it for the sex” — he knows she won’t remember him a year from now. It plays out against the band’s trademark dense wall of guitars and earth-moving percussion. Then it dissolves into a perfect spaghetti western dirge, complete with trumpet and a bit of tambourine. It’s a perfect blend of narcissism, frustration and resignation. There is simple beauty here, too. “I’m From Further North Than You” is a mostly quiet song — understated guitar with a generous but not overdone helping of drums — about a relationship that had its high points, “but just not very many.”
If the Wedding Present’s music is unrelentingly grave, McLusky’s is a blend of angry guitars and a heavy dose of mischief. The band’s third — and evidently final — full-length record, “The Difference Between Me And You Is That I’m Not On Fire,” came out in 2004 and contains several songs whose lyrics are pretty much indecipherable.
“That Man Will Not Hang,” the record’s second song, opens with a thick dose of bass and lyrics about “a story for a thimble on a dimple on a pea” and a man who “gave away his heart like it was his to give away.” Andy Falkous, the band’s singer, shouts his way through the chorus. The drums are loud and persistent. It is decidedly unmelodic, yet somehow catchy. The sinister “Icarus Smicarus,” meanwhile, is part post-punk fairy tale, part 78-rpm call to arms. And “Forget About Him, I’m Mint,” is a jaunty tale about rickshaws and thorazine.
Now, if only we can talk McLusky into making a comeback record in eight years.