The guy couldn't sing, patently. David Gedge's voice was always on the verge of cracking, hidden way back in the mix behind banks of abrasive, jangling guitars. In the finest traditions of gospel music, Gedge was always straining to reach the next note--that next note which was always just out of reach--as he struggled to come to terms with yet another failed relationship, another doomed obsession, another bad joke. High notes were shouted rather than sung, shouted in an almost self-conscious manner that owed little to generations of strutting male rockers. Words were written almost as an afterthought, there to provide a counterpoint for the tumultuous guitars. Seemingly, Gedge had a problem coming to terms with his own masculinity... or perhaps his was a new form of maleness, one tempered by emotion and tears and a determination to not judge women by their appendages alone.

No wonder his North England band the Wedding Present were hailed as the natural successors to the Smiths' feminine, inward-turned rock once the Mancunian outfit had imploded in the mid-'80s--there was enough self-immolating passion and charm there to inspire a whole generation of sad, housebound, socially inept kids. Plus, Gedge clearly wasn't gay. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there's something deeply suspect about the way certain singers used to hide--and sometimes still hide--their sexuality.) A whole generation of girlfriends going weak at the knees in his presence could attest to that fact.

The guy's music was repetitive, samey. Over and over again the Wedding Present would plow the same furrow--from the boisterous optimism of their U.S. debut, 1987's George Best, through crummy covers of Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" and 1991's disappointing seamonsters, to liaisons with Steve Albini on 1990's severely underrated, feedback-drenched, pre-grunge "Brassneck" EP. Listening to the new Manifesto compilation Singles 1989-1991, one song quickly starts to blur into the next, the whole sounding like a long, drawn-out crescendo of hope and lucklessness. Yet there was something eminently lovable about this band--their humanity, their passion, their humor.

Plus, there were Gedge's bushy eyebrows and his ridiculous way of holding a guitar, and the way the Wedding Present would always make my feet move in righteous anger at the front of shows. There were the break-up songs--songs like "Once More" and the almost orgasmic "My Favourite Dress"--and the warm, comforting feeling they would leave inside, that someone else cared. Plus, Gedge refused to take the easy route--smarten up his band's sound and round off the corners. Before Gedge, it seemed that all rock stars had to be dicks, had to be despicable braggarts in the style of Iggy and Jagger. I fucking hated Iggy and Jagger. (Does it take any brains--or indeed balls--to strut your stuff the way they did? I think not. Just a couple of cheap beers and a few stupid followers.) And who could resist a title like "What Have I Said Now?" (from 1991's Bizarro).

It was only when the Wedding Present started to broaden their horizons--most notably during 1992's laudable but misjudged decision to release a seven-inch single every month (smashing all sorts of U.K. Top 40 records in the process)--when they started looking abroad to their American cousins Pavement and Sebadoh, that they lost their way. They started to sound bitty, not like their own glorious selves but like pallid copies of bands who almost certainly had originally looked to their music for inspiration. How tiresome. The Wedding Present, of all bands, should have realized that the first idea a band has is usually the best--and that you should never veer away from the crowd-pleasers.

The fact that their singer, David Gedge, managed to reinvent himself last year as a pop dreamer par excellence with Va Va Voom, the summery, keyboard-led debut album from his Cinerama side project, is all the more astonishing. There again, Gedge always has been in love with the music of Bacharach, Cole Porter, and Smokey Robinson--it was just that he never before had the nerve to divest himself of the reassuring banks of guitars which could hide his insecurities so effectively. "Uncluttered" is the word that springs to mind.

And if you don't understand the appeal of a line like "Yeah, I've got a girlfriend/She's beautiful, considerate, and yes, I do love her/But I'm not going to pretend/That she's ever going to be the one" (from Cinerama's "Hard, Fast and Beautiful"), then perhaps you're listening to the wrong medium.

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