After a quarter century, the Wedding Present is more than just an ironic name for an emo band. But 28 years after David Gedge’s girlfriend and drummer left him for his guitar player (who also left the band), it’s worth questioning how long Gedge’s personal-vendetta songwriting retains relevance. Because while their latest offering captures momentary glimpses of the vitality that made the Wedding Present one of British rock’s greatest workhorses, Valentina spends much of the time spinning in circles instead of plodding onward.
Valentina is the eighth longplayer in the Wedding Present’s discography, but it easily could have been any along the line. It takes the same confrontational lyrics over the same bass-driven, muscular riffs that sustains the Wedding Present’s startlingly consistent discography. They are one of the only bands that could fill a six CD changer without much variance in style or grace.
Gedge’s steadfast devotion to a singular style is antithetical though, because his persona is perpetually unsatisfied. Each of his lyrics document the details of a world that’s crumbling around him, seemingly oblivious that he may have been an active agent in fostering the conditions of his own disappointment. As you can imagine, this opens up some problems. Gedge throws daggers at deceitful women, but seeks sympathy while ending an unfaithful affair on “The Girl From the DDR.”
This is nothing new—for the Wedding Present or otherwise. Pop music is littered with poignant political statements that wilt under any sort of intensive scrutiny. But popular audiences seem forgiving just so long as an artist that misses the pulse of accurate political commentary gets directly to the heart of a pop hook. And in both the political and the pop, Gedge treads dangerously close to regressive attitudes that are woefullly of-his-time.
For long stretches on Valentina, Gedge’s vitriolic emoting seems surprisingly feckless. “You Jane” and “Back a Bit... Stop” are maybe the most likely candidates to have been cryogenically frozen in 1992, with frantic bass and stirring drums. But Gedge’s vocals sound detached, almost unconvinced of his adversarial attitude. He has tunnel-vision, when the song truly could have benefitted from a more nuanced perspective.
Where he sounds totally sold are Valentina’s most unlikely moments. He’s suddenly floored by a beautiful woman in “Deer Caught In The Headlights,” and the dueling vocals on “The Girl From the DDR” let the song play sympathetic to both audiences. Where his signature tools might begin to dull on you, the changes of pace lend Gedge needed dexterity when crafting narratives.
That assertion could prove controversial. If you’re of the opinion that quality punk music starts and ends with Our Band Could Be Your Life, then Valentina does well enough to re-affirm the Wedding Present’s dependability and workmanlike songwriting. And even for the rest of us who don't see stagnancy as a commendable achievement, there are echoes of Gedge’s guttoral production and attack-minded songwriting. All sorts of beloved post-millenial emo bands have taken the Wedding Present’s aesthetics and attitude and rendered them for contemporary ears. But that’s not an exclusive process, and almost three decades later, that maturation could serve Gedge well.