CD Review of El Rey by The Wedding Present
Recommended if you like
Cinerama, REM, Pavement
The Wedding Present:
El Rey

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD


wo survivors of the Alternative Rock Wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s – the Present and legendary producer Steve Albini, whose bands Big Black and Shellac rewrote the sonic palette for the genre using meaner, darker colors – team up for the first time since the early '90s heyday of the Wedding Present. Back then, of course, the Wedding Present was on one heck of a roll in England, tying none other than Elvis's UK record of landing 12 top 30 hits on the singles chart in a year. Of course, the band made little impact stateside, and perhaps because he realized he'd hit some sort of popularity ceiling, the Wedding Present's David Gedge put the band on ice for a decade-long break to concentrate on his Cinerama side project (which did enlist Albini's services at times). As Cinerama wound down – concurrent with his relationship with Cinerama's Sally Murrell hitting the rocks – Gedge revived the Present in 2005 for the Take Fountain album, originally slated to be from Cinerama. But in the process, he dumped his hometown of Leeds for Seattle, finished the record, and hasn't looked back since.

El Rey, therefore, is the first true Wedding Present album since 1997. And it's a good one, with shimmering guitars and drums sporting that trademark Albini crunch, and the long, drawn out, crystal-bright droning breaks for which Gedge's songs are known. This displays itself no finer than in "Model, Actress, Whatever..." and "Palisades." (Aside: It's wild to hear him sing wistfully about a picture online in "Model," crooning "It's just a jpeg..." when, after all, we last heard from the Wedding Present back when the Internet was just getting its feet wet among non-geek, normal folks.

The high points of the record come when Gedge jumps into his equally famous midtempo guitar-pop pocket, in jangly numbers like "Don't Take Me Home Until I'm Drunk" and "Santa Ana Winds." Here, he picks up where he left off during the Present's heyday, soaring even higher on "Spider-Man on Hollywood," where he quizzically takes a look around, trying to make sense of the world around him, half-aware of exactly how his current romantic relationship just blew up but fully, painfully aware that somehow it was his fault.

New to the band is bassist Terry de Castro, a gal who slides into the harmony vocals slot left vacant by Murrell – whose singing in old songs like "Convertible" and "Click Click" added a beautiful, ethereal dimension to the hitherto all-boy guitar-pop band back toward the end of the Wedding Present's first run. De Castro's singing, here, is a welcome addition, backing on tracks like "Spider-Man" and taking the lead on El Rey's closer, "Swingers." Looks like the reconstituted Wedding Present not only is back, but they're better than ever. Their basic, anti-synth pop-rock held up to time's test, while so many other bands have since perished. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing here that's strong as the band's early hits "Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft" or "My Favorite Dress," but they come close in spots and hint at even better pop goodness to come.

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