The Wedding Present has produced yet another brilliant album with Valentina, its eighth studio album in 25 years.
The album is comprised almost exclusively of twisted, distorted love songs that play with the dynamic between hard and soft in both the lyrics and the music. Most of the songs are characterized by abrupt transitions between more punk guitar and drum-heavy sounds to softer, more melodic songwriting. Similarly, the lyrical content fluctuates between bitter hatred caused by toxic relationships and sweeter, more heartfelt cries of love.
It is an album that immediately grabs the listener’s attention with the first track, “You’re Dead” — an angry, anthemic love song about the dilemma of being unable to quit loving someone you hate.
The album’s opening lyrics, “When you buried your face / Into my chest / Your little hiding place / I would never have guessed / What a little cheat you are / What a liar you turned out to be / How we even got this far / Is a mystery,” instantly give the listener an idea of the themes that will be addressed throughout the album.
Valentina as a whole explores the complex and awkward side of love. Every song is a first-person narrative that acts almost as a personal letter that singer/songwriter David Gedge — the only remaining original member — is directing toward a specific person. Despite this specificity, however, the themes of insecurity, bitterness, resentment and loss in love that the album explores are extremely universal.
Compared to earlier works, like its second album Bizarro, Valentina is much more taut, constrained and concise. The jamming is abbreviated in service of a traditional pop/rock sound but is still laced with occasional experimentation.
This is not surprising coming from someone who has been making music for as long as Gedge. He and The Wedding Present have matured over the years and it shows in the music. Despite this, The Wedding Present’s recent output, and Valentina in particular, still sounds fresh and modern.
Valentina has a very distinct sound as compared to The Wedding Present’s last album, El Rey, from 2008. Where El Rey was largely dark, ominous and heavy, Valentina is lighter and airier, allowing the lyrics to be more easily understood. Through the lyrics here, Gedge appears more heartfelt and honest about his romantic inadequacies than he has in the past.
Gedge plays up the romantic dichotomy between a youthful idealist and an experienced cynic through the album’s 10 tracks. The source of much of the narrator’s pain is his longing for a genuine, loving relationship coupled with his inability to actually obtain one.
Musically, The Wedding Present wears its influences on its sleeve. Drummer Charles Layton seems to have borrowed much from the manic drumroll-laced style of The Undertones’ Billy Doherty. Multiple times across the album, guitarists Gedge and Graeme Ramsay utilize the crystalline and chimey guitar sounds characteristic of The Smiths’ Johnny Marr and Felt’s Maurice Deebank.
The use of non-traditional, more rhythmic jams is also reminiscent of bands like The Feelies. Bassist/vocalist Pepe le Moko, who has apparently escaped from the Casbah, provides a sweet counterpoint to Gedge’s sometimes-rough, sometimes-soulful vocals.
Bottom line: Every song on the album is great — there is no filler. The final song, “Mystery Date,” is an especially strong track that slowly builds in intensity from slow introspection to a rocking, dance-inducing number.
Though Valentina is different from much of The Wedding Present’s past work, there is nothing here to alienate existing fans. Newcomers will also find much to appreciate here and may even consider Valentina a perfect introduction to the band, especially if they’re in the mood for a varied, catchy collection of non-syrupy love songs.
The Wedding Present will be playing The Troubadour on Saturday, March 31, as a part of the 21st anniversary tour for its third album Seamonsters. Valentina was released on Scopitones on March 20.