Three years after the release of Take Fountain, The Wedding Present’s latest album, El Rey [Manifesto Records], is eleven tracks of high school textbook lyrics, set against overused syncopated rhythm guitar, and the dark, full ambience that is the trademark of producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies). Despite interesting sounds, the songs on El Rey lack hooks, and aside from a notable first track, the element of surprise quickly leaves this album, and all that remains are tunes that just sit there in the dull glory that is a half-baked melody. It doesn’t help that there’s a song called “Soup,” bringing to mind a tired Seinfeld episode with the chorus, “No soup for you.”
The best song is the opener, “Santa Ana Winds,” with its eerie Morse-code feedback and pick-up switch toggling, driving rhythm section, and its simple, lifting chorus. Of all the songs on the album, this is the one time that Singer/Guitarist David Gedge’s voice doesn’t become tedious before the song hits the three-minute mark, helped largely the double-tracked vocals in the chorus. The most interesting song, lyrically, is “Spider Man On Hollywood,” where the simple theme of being deceived by an ex-girlfriend is paralleled with the deceptive nature of Hollywood:
“I thought I saw a flying saucer last night,
But of course it was just an aeroplane,
I thought I saw Wynona Ryder,
But my eyes were playing tricks again.”
Okay, so Gedge isn’t Frank Black or Kurt Cobain, but this is as interesting as it gets within The Wedding Present’s love and loss approach to lyrics. The other track that stands out is the finale, “Swingers,” on which bassist Terry de Castro sings lead, evoking Maureen Tucker’s vocal performance The Velvet Underground’s “After Hours.”
Thematically, this album could be titled The Girlfriend Album, because the word “Girlfriend” appears in nearly every song, and even makes its way into a title: “The Thing I Like Best About Him Is His Girlfriend.” Being girl-crazy is perfectly okay, but it seems like Gedge’s affinity for the repetition of punk could be directed towards emphasizing a strong hook to get the choruses off the ground, instead of using the same subject matter for every song; so, maybe the Beatles got away with it in the early days… One good hook goes a long way.
If you were thinking of downloading this entire album from I-Tunes, beware. I’d only recommend it if you’ve been a fan of The Wedding Present since the mid-eighties. Otherwise, check out “Santa Ana Winds.” It might not be the smash single of the summer, but it’ll make you think before you pass El Rey off on someone else.