CD Review of The Complete Peel Sessions by The Wedding Present

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The Complete Peel Sessions
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Over the years, all but one of the 12 John Peel Weddoe sessions appearing here have already found their way into record-store shelves in CD and/or vinyl, so there's not a lot of new material for the typically obsessive devotee of this 1990s cult band. But this box of obscure recordings from (at least in the United States) an obscure Leeds jangly-guitar band – another alternative group the major labels hyped, chewed up, and spat out – is much more than an attempt to earn a few more pounds sterling from what's left of the group's following. The box documents 20 years of the Weddoes' evolution, through different lineups, the hiatus years when frontman David Gedge did his Cinerama thing with significant other Sally Murrell, and the love-it-or-hate-it period of the Weddoes' Ukranian side project involving punked-up versions of folk tunes from guitarist Peter Solokwa's family tree. (Solowka, later booted from the band by Gedge, evolved the project into the band later known as the Ukranians.)

More significantly, the box documents how the late, great alternative rock scene-maker John Peel worked: He took bands into his studio and did semi-live recordings for his radio show, tolerated false starts and let them fix mistakes with overdubs as long as it could be done in the same afternoon. While Peel let the bands choose their own songs, his taste in cool tuneage was legendary; getting the invitation to work with him could build more buzz around a band than today's iTunes commercials. He never made money from the John Peel franchise, so his street cred remains intact even now, after he's passed away. The Wedding Present might have been his favorite band. Certainly he felt them cool enough to invite to his 50th birthday party and to record their set for posterity. Also included among the 94 tracks are live performances from the Reading and now-defunct Phoenix festivals.

Rock fans who like synth-free, straight-ahead pop songs with a strong guitar edge will likely enjoy discovering the Wedding Present via this box set. A lot of the songs sound better here au naturel, without the production of Steve Albini or other 1990s studio artifacts that make the group's studio albums sound, at times, flat and, in hindsight, dated. Like, for instance, "Kennedy," the one song non-fans might have heard because it was the major single pushed by RCA to college radio at the peak of the band's 15 minutes of U.S. fame. The version here is faster, more joyful, and less dense than the Steve Albini-produced single. Fans will dig things like the rare track "Softly, Softly," which was originally going to be an early-1990s single but never made the cut, later remade into "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah," now a Weddoe live staple. "Yeah" is here too, along with interview snippets between Gedge and Peel, as well as rocked-out versions of "Spangle" and "Gazebo," two cuts appearing in more mellow – and not necessarily better – incarnations on Watusi. And that's the point of the box, providing alternate versions of nearly 100 of the Wedding Present's tunes: it's debatable as to which was better, there are definitely arguments to be had. If there weren't – and the recording sucked – why bother releasing it, right?

~Mojo Flucke, PhD