The table is rumbling… the glass is moving … “No, I was NOT pushing that time”
Jean ‘Ten-Ton’ Baudrillard, heavyweight reality debunker
Ivan ‘The Terrible’ Pavlov, man-dog of the behavioral three-ring circus
Senator: The war’s over. Our side won the war. Now we must busy ourselves winning the peace. And Fletcher, there’s an old saying: To the victors belong the spoils.
Fletcher: There’s another old saying, Senator: Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.
(from the film The Outlaw Josey Wales, 1976)
Prologue: The following was conducted via a séance* that took place on Monday 23rd November 2015, Sir David Frost compered. Many Bothans died to bring us this information
B: in these media-saturated times how can we truly know what we are ‘seeing’ is ‘real’? Expert after expert is thrust in front to instil fear, mistrust, distrust, this dissonance only creates a befuddled and confused populace, malleable and open to extensive and excessive manipulation …
P: A deliberate ploy. This is another classic example of my work surrounding ‘conditioned reflexes’, just ring the bell and the being (ergo a dog) will salivate, food or not, the trigger is pulled, the switch is on, behaviour is controllable. A reduction of personality to programmed reactions and behaviour, the disparate mass become one hive mind. Totalitarian regimes thrive because of this inveterate and atavistic action.
B: As we have seen time and time again and with major global events especially, the desired message is immediately controlled, the official version hurried out to agencies and is not to be questioned or scrutinised. It is heresy and treasonous to ponder inconsistencies as our (s)elected representatives deliver their scripted, rehearsed performances, devoid of real feeling and empathy, their time on the stage has come, the glare of the spotlight and the ego-rush palpable. Events are framed and delivered by the ‘official’ organs of deception. The story begins …
P: I refer you to my colleague Ivan Sechenov’s 1863 study of ‘Orienting response’ especially through the prism of media. Devised to polarise and split perception, create division, activate double-think, control the chaos.
B: Agreed. The Manichean ‘us v them = we’, all in it together, the group shall vanquish the individual mind-set, an invisible to the human-eye lynch mob that attacks when their cerebral cortex is threatened by information that challenges pre-existing beliefs.
P: The rotting carcass that is world football and its vipers stand resolute in the face of terror and loss of revenue, the long-lamented beautiful game further reduced to a sideshow backdrop of the rampant, rapacious illusion, the great distraction will not be affected. Sponsors would not be pleased. The show MUST go on. The show WILL go on.
P: It all manifests as a ‘cognitive paralysis’, the hinterland betwixt truth and bull, the conviction that you ‘know’ you are being duped yet are confronted with hyper-info to the contrary. Witness the speed of information travel, which is Orwellian to say the least: what was said yesterday is ignored/denied today, orchestrated presentations of unity and sincerity.
B: Terminology is vital c.f. the difference between ‘the goodies/the white hatted sides’ (of which there are always two) use of ‘evaporated, terminated or liquidated’ when victorious v massacre, ‘war, merciless’ when victimised. Control of the message through language and image is paramount, neuro-linguistic programming rewires the critical faculties. One is rendered permanently dazed and confused.
P: One thing that perpetually irks me is the motives of these ‘terrorists’. Like during the World Wars and subsequent acts of ‘coordinated’ terror I posit why significant targets are avoided, i.e. Buck House, Houses of Parliament, surely to strike at the heart of your supposed foe you would go for the symbolic aorta?
B: I suspect that this won’t be the end of these discussions?
P: I was worried you’d say that. Maybe we should get Umberto Eco in next time?
B: Err, he’s not dead yet.
P: Oh. My bad.
SDF: Before we depart once more, have you heard Adele’s newie, 42? Not due out ‘til 2029, mind.
B: Nah, what’s it sound like?
P: Um … serial caterwauling about a fella she once knew. Yet another example of ‘coordinated responses’
B: Harrumph, plus ca change! Au revoir, jusqu’à la prochaine fois.
*With respect to Ian Svenonious
In (Anthony) Burgess’s discussion of Nineteen Eighty Four he goes on to suggest that a cacotopian tendency of society is visible in his lifetime. When ‘the stresses of contemporary life grow intolerable’ we can read the signs for a coming cacotopia: ‘There are bills to pay, machines that go wrong and cannot be repaired, roofs that leak, buses that fail to arrive, dull work to be done, an inability to make ends meet, insurance premiums that fall due, sickness, the panorama of the wicked world displayed in the press …’
There are 5 levels of threat:
low – an attack is unlikely
moderate – an attack is possible but not likely
substantial – an attack is a strong possibility
severe – an attack is highly likely
critical – an attack is expected imminently
The level is set by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre and the Security Service (MI5).
Threat levels don’t have an expiry date. They can change at any time as different information becomes available to security agents.
Phew, thank the Redeemer for these guardians.
Every plane is a missile
Every suitcase a bomb
There’s no reason in my head now
Only fear in my bones
Over thirty years Leeds’s The Wedding Present have released nine studio albums (one in Ukrainian), been endorsed by outré doyen John Peel, worked regularly with noisenik Steve Albini and equalled Elvis Presley’s chart record for placings in a calendar year. Throughout they have pioneered and patented an aesthetic of frenetic, breakneck guitar string assaults allied to melodic snapshots of emotional woes that are clear (if unacknowledged) influences on bands like Arctic Monkeys.
Led by David Gedge, the ever-doomed romantic bluff-gruff Northerner with a nifty line in vignettes of aching heart and head, a soul on a perennially thwarted quest for romance, compatibility and fidelity. Unfortunately he exists in a world of infidelity, unfaithfulness, (dis)honesty, cheating, scheming, rowing and silent treatment. Making up to break up and vice versa. Gedge doesn’t so much sing as exhort and exhale exasperation.
Following Peel sessions and stand-alone releases in 1985, 1987’s George Best made them immediate press darlings. A compendium of glum broadsides of affairs of the head and heart, wry observations delivered in breakneck blistering guitars and deadpan heartfelt witticisms rivalling The Smiths for lonerism frustration and yearning. The ‘the long walk home …. and ‘a stranger’s hand on my favourite dress’ and ‘Don’t Laugh’s elapsing and collapsing of time as realised by the dog’s advancing years (the one to seven ratio never sounded so stark) set the template for the essence of the Wedding Present’s outlook and output to come.
The music (fast/slow/fast) corroborates the point of view/emotional turmoil inherent in most of the songs. A scaling guitar sound cacophony, jingly jangly, choppy and melodic with rhyming that daubs, paints and splatters vivid pictures, indelible imagery that etches on the self, an exhilarating breakneck tour de force. No macho-rock clichés here, these are odes about the struggles of being male, the clumsy interactions with the object of affection, the unforeseen perils of being as one in a duo even being a gooseberry. Taken at face value Gedge (or whomever he’s ‘seeing’ the world through) is the unluckiest ‘in lover’ to walk the planet, always on the receiving end, forever yearning for what might be, what was and what will (n)ever be, but always with a sense of humour.
Tommy in 1988 was a compilation of the aforementioned radio sessions and singles predating George Best, but it was enough to warrant a deal with a major label, RCA records. Their first release for their new label was an album of Ukrainian folk songs, in Ukrainian folk style and sung in Ukrainian. ‘Welcome to The Wedding Present, The Man’. A stand-out is the evasive romance of ‘Once More’ and it’s ‘And does your heart begin to fail, as the moment draws closer’ a soon-to-be familiar lamentation sung in an angrier, less humorous tone than usual. The LP also featured a cover of Orange Juice’s 1982 single ‘Felicity’ and included a blistering Peel session of ‘My Favourite Dress’
1989’s Bizarro initially underwhelmed the critics, but what would they know. Featuring tracks like hit single ‘Kennedy’ a scorching, searing assessment of the ‘hit’ POTUS in 1963, widow Jackie and ‘Arry ‘The Boat’ Onassis, the crumbling American Dream and its apple pie symbolism, all isn’t well on the farm. Stand-out with archetypal lyricism is ‘No’ with its tender Merseybeatish guitars, Gedge’s scabrous ‘this room’s so different now’ one of his ever exquisite observations of space, place and time. Gedge nails the awkwardness of living, an observer, waiting on the fringes, waiting for his chance, the irrational longing that draws you back, drags you once more to the scene of it all. ‘Corduroy’s B- side cover of Cockney Rebel’s ‘Come up and see me (Make me smile’) saw the band’s first ‘dalliance’ with ur-engineer Steve Albini resulting in the heavier, yet no less lyrically fragrant LP Seamonsters in 1991. The result a murkier sound with Gedge’s arch-words (and one-word titles) submerged beneath the sonics. The song ‘Dalliance’ – another ode to being left in the lurch once more as she’s gone back to HIM. Original guitarist Peter Solowka left after this album.
1993’s Hit Parade saw the release of 12 singles in a calendar year, equalling Elvis Presley’s record and upsetting the BBC in the process. With hits such as the Buzzcockian ‘Blue Eyes’ and ‘Three’s’ ‘I’m yours, she’s mine but three had a better time‘ refrain it continued Gedge’s erudite and exquisite songsmithery. It also featured a cover of Julee Cruise’s Twin Peaks theme ‘Falling, it’s ‘Don’t let yourself be hurt this time’ wail right up introspective Gedge Street.
The prodigious work rate continued with Hit Parade 2 in the same year, a repeat of the monthly releases albeit with less enthusiasm and response. The rewards were no less bountiful though with songs such as the three-minute thrasher ‘Sticky’ and a Bobby Vee-like ‘Boing’
1994’s Watusi is a 60s inflected love letter and an affectionate nod to simpler pop days, capturing Gedge’s long kinship with songsmiths and interpreters such as Goffin and King, Lieber and Stoller and artists like Del Shannon (his ‘Little Town Flirt’ a clear influence on Gedge’s forlorn persona). The motorik and roll of ‘Shake it’ and the psychey ‘Catwomen’ has our man purring ‘the pussycat in you brings out the man in me.’ Easy, tiger.
By 1996 Gedge was the only original member, but the quality remains. Saturnalia’s ‘Dreamworld’ has our (prot)agonist again on the fringes observing and opining ‘how many times have you given him one last chance’ ever ready to pick up the pieces and help her move on. ‘Kansas’ has the wonderful couplet ‘I don’t care where this lands us, don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’
After taking a hiatus to form the imaginary-film group Cinerama, The Wedding Present returned in 2005 with Take Fountain. Opening with the Floydian ‘On Ramp’ it leads into the superlative ‘Interstate 5’, all thumping guitars and thundering backbeat, Gedge gets low down and dirty, cutting to the chase on all matters lusty, ‘I just wanted one more night’. No hidden meanings here culminating in a Morricone/Mariachi finale.
El Rey followed three years later again with Albini at the helm. A Stranglers-like bass-driven opener in ‘Santa Ana Winds’ once more highlighting a lifelong submittal and acceptance to the rules of attraction ’that’s when I pretend I don’t have a girlfriend’ he admits without shame. The flip-side comes in ‘Palisades’ with the ‘I thought women were supposed to tell you how they’re feeling, but you’re really the most unrevealing’ barb before being ushered out the door.
Valentina in 2012 was the last new offerings from the band and full evidence of how you don’t change a winning team. ‘The Girl from the DDR’s hark back to a time of cross-bordered love and an(other) admittance that ‘I’ve been using you all this time … I’ve realised that I don’t think I’m ever gonna leave my girlfriend for you’. The tables have turned, our ‘hero’ is no longer the heartbroken, but breaker, cold and distant. This year also saw Cinerama return with a ‘re imagined’ version of the album.
In summary, The Wedding Present articulate the potency of a first and (even better) second glance, the rush of blood this generates, the humiliation in finding out you’ve been cuckolded, the problems caused by being nice, being guarded, not being upfront and all that time wasted as a result. Be it on the periphery, at the scene of others’ car-crashes itching to get closer to the object of desire, the girl you long for, you need more than anything is in front of you. Albeit with another. HIM. However, tongue-tied and heart-strung, the paralysis never eases.
Those adolescent feelings may alter but never really go away. Either prior to the end or its aftermath, the memories linger, from the signifiers (‘the thought of HIM in our bed’/lights on when you’re supposed to be at work) to the emotional scars and flotsam (razor/dress). The everyday sounds and signifiers that jar and jog memories, Proustian flushes that you wish would stay buried. The things that matter, finding the time to ring, the minutiae of relationships, the full gamut of the highs and lows, the whys and wherefores, inevitable heartbreak, perennially unlucky with affairs of the heart. Even after you’re gone, the thoughts forever linger.
This is first press of the grapes music, full-bodied and vintage. These songs are here to change your life and prevent aortic strife. Chronology can suggest peaks and troughs, highs and lows. Not in this case, with nary a dud for 30 years each and every release is timeless. Good bands capture time and memory, great bands take your life and once unwrapped this matrimonial gift isn’t going anywhere. With anyone. But you. This is a band for thinkers, those who prize art that soothes and listens, human and sentimental that express identification with anyone who’s had a heart broken and/or adored from afar. Most of us then.
Age old themes of sage old dreams, relevance is permanence. Your life is incomplete without this band.
Even panto cow and well-worn gangster’s mattress decries free choice:
Babs takes five after getting everyone outta her pub
The celebrations/commemorations/commiserations start earlier/finish later every year, expect a Christmas tie-in very soon. Festive fun for the boys.
Newspeak watch: Note how the dead are now re-branded ‘the fallen’ thereby forever incorporating ‘our boys’ and the …
This spot on piece only highlights the baloney espoused by metro-bores like Leith and teeth-op author Amis. That’s right, Gideon, Dave, IDiotSmith and Grayling just bring the house down daily with their humour don’t they? I know, let’s rehabilitate the grinning maniac, his japes and tom-foolery are well missed.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself
Israel. Palestine. Israel-Palestine.
Stick your bugle into cool British culture
Genres Don't Matter, Good Musik is Good Musik. Find Something New and Try It.
"I haven't heard this song in years, it never fails to start the tears"
Clever talk about music and pop culture
"When we realise that all the tides of history are flowing in our direction; that we are not beaten, that we represent the future; then when we say it and mean it, we shall lead our people to where they deserve to be led!" - Nye Bevan, 1959.
Madly In Love With Sound
A repository of McLuhan-related news, conferences, events, books, articles, links & general information.
by Jack Monroe, bestselling author of 'A Girl Called Jack'
Friday 26th May 2017, University of Sheffield
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