Well I am just going to come out and say it, this will probably be a biased review. Ever since Wedding Present’s emergence twenty-sometehing years ago they’ve produced straightforward indie rock with a level of musicianship that is above average to say the least. That said, this is exactly my type of music and there’s no way I can offer an unbiased opinion. You’ve been warned.
Many of the critics will compare the 2012 release Valentina to their incredible, unbeatable Sea Monsters, and this is an unfair comparison. It is this comparison that will lead to reviews that are substantially lower than what this album deserves. It’s not Sea Monsters, nothing is, but this album fills a space in modern independent music that few artists are able to do. It’s distorted guitar, double time drums, pithy lyrics, and a pop presence reminiscent of the early 90′s that Wedding Present offers in spades. Deep content presented in an upbeat almost sarcastic manner makes Valentina a modern indie album with a little bit of nostalgia to a time before heavy electronic and folk influence overtook the indie rock world.
It starts off with a bang, it changes pace, it leaves more to be craved, it has all of the elements of a great rock record. “You’re Dead” is your quintessential indie love song, pain masked in sarcasm, energy, and cynical commentary on love itself. While you will find a variety of songs that fit the mold for ‘indie (insert topic here) songs, one never gets the vibe that Wedding Present is borrowing, stealing, or mimicking, but that they themselves are an integral (often overlooked) band that helped nurture the genre.
Ah yes, Valentina is the perfect album for the hopeless romantic and the lifelong cynic, David Gedge being the perfect spokesperson for the hopeful, but tormented. It’s impossible to deny the infectious all-over-the-place rants of “You Jane” and “Meet Cute” and their brutally honest beauty, some of the best moments on the album. Another remarkable feature of Valentina is its refusal to stay in one place. The aggressive and sporadic “Back a Bit…Stop” features a “what the fuck?” moment. Whether you like the changes or not (I have mixed emotions), it’s clear that even though Wedding Present is sticking to what they know, they are far from phoning it in. Creative within their spectrum, the band uses familiar signatures and formats, and mixes them up in such a way that it is impossible to be bored while listening to the album.
If anything, Valentina is strongest when the band doesn’t try to deviate too much. Most of the experimentation is good, but empirically not as strong as the straightforward start/stop rock (see “Deer Caught in the Headlights” wow). It’s understandable, they’ve been doing this for a shit long time and it’s sometimes difficult to know the right level of experimentation. The ambiance of the the final track “Mystery Date” and the jumbled content of “Girl from the DDR” are some points in which the experimentation feels a bit out of place.
Valentina is a good album by a band whose sound is best when they stick to what they do so very well and a welcome sight for those who miss straightforward, dirty, gritty, distorted indie rock. If you need a break from keyboards and acoustic guitars, I suggest you listen to this album immediately.