After dropping my little daughter off at school yesterday, I strolled around the block to nearby Other Music, one of the last few decent record stores left in Manhattan (despite -- or perhaps because of -- their haughty disdain for relatively accessible selections). My reasons for stopping into record stores these days are purely Pavlovian. Be it an enclave of esoterica like Downtown Music Gallery on the Bowery or a fuckin' Coconuts in midtown, I find it nigh on impossible to walk by a shop that sells music and not want to stop in. There isn't really even much I'm looking for these days, but I still simply love to browse around and see what's new on the shelves.
In the instance of Other Music, there's always something new on the shelves, although four out of five times, it's going to be by an artist I've simply never heard of. Other Music thrives on the super-indie, super-eclectic and super-obscure end of the musical spectrum. Looking for that new album by Carrie Underwood? Don't bother going to Other Music. Looking for a limited vinyl edition copy of The Fall's Mark E. Smith collaborating with an indigenous tribe of New Guinea bushmen for an album of Krautrock and Nick Drake covers with Devandra Banhart playing the hammered dulcimer? Other Music's your place! Once upon a time, I could relatively hold my own in any discussion of cutting edge indie rock. These days, I can't even pretend to keep up. Most of the stuff I'm going to be interested in at Other Music is housed in an aisle dubbed "Then" (as opposed to "Now"), driving the painful point even further into my fragile psyche: I'm old!.
So, there I was at O.M., dutifully perusing the "Then" section like the good midlife-crisis sufferer I am and I caught sight of an album I immediately snatched up for the purposes of purchasing, Live 1987 by The Wedding Present -- a two disc live set (obviously) by one of my old favorite bands.
I'd first heard about the band in the Summer of 1989. I was interning thanklessly (and paylessly) in the chilly confines of SPIN magazine, and one of my tasks was to rifle through issue after issue of Brit music periodicals for the sake of the reference library, finding out about bits and pieces of new British bands. My friend Rob B. came back from a trip to Europe and was raving about a track he'd heard a couple of times there that he thought was called "The Wedding Present" by a band called Kennedy. He described it as an army of frantically strummed electric guitars -- something like the Buzzcocks on crack covering the Smiths. Having only heard of the band due to my rampant anglophilia and my article-clipping for SPIN, I corrected Rob's name/title switcheroo and we went out in search for the album. Rob tracked down the cd-single (an artefact I wasn't be able to put my hand to for a couple of years, appended by a beautifully hot-wired cover of Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual") and played it for me. WOW! Having been otherwise lamenting the then-loss of my beloved Killing Joke (they wouldn't re-surface without warning again until later on that year with the flexidisc of "Beautiful Dead") with the vaudvillian-goth shenanigans of the Mission UK (who I'd somewhat inexplicably become unduly fond of), "Kennedy" was a fresh blast of energy I'd not encountered in some time. Hardcore Punk had become rather staid for me by then, and the radio airwaves were choked by either Tom Petty, the last gasp of hair metal or the transient likes of Rob Base and/or Technotronic. It was indeed a frantic electric strumfest...pinned down by a hyperkinetic drum pattern and an infectiously relentless bassline. As it built to a crescendo, it DID sound like an army of guitars. It was sheer magnificense (and still is, dammit).
From that point on, Rob and I became massive fans of the band, tracking down every last single of theirs (they were an endearingly prolific band at the time) and going well out of our way to catch them performing live any time they dared come to play on U.S. soil. Along with Cop Shoot Cop and -- for a while -- The Wonder Stuff, The Wedding Present were far and away one the best of bands of the 90's for me.
In any case, I immediately ripped Live 1987 to my iPod yesterday afternoon and listened to it in its high volume entirety for a walk to midtown. If you're a fan, it's completely essential and I strongly recommend you rushing out to acquire it. That said, many of the live renditions (this is their first official live album, by the way) only made me pine to hear the originals. This particular track is one such song.
"I'm Not Always So Stupid" is almost the quintessential Wedding Present tune. Built around one of the band's trademark frenzied strum-a-thons, vocalist/guitarist Dave Gedge sings a spot-on account of the feverish fixation of the newly jilted. Having been dumped more times than I'd have cared to admit in the early-to-mid 90s and dealt with my share of unrequited obsession, it was no mystery why the Wedding Present's songs so appealed to me. Gedge has an amazing knack for capturing the feelings of hurt, betrayal and incredulousness that accompany a romantic break-up, often utilizing the simplest turns of phrase to do so. It's a gift, and acted as a major catharsis at the time.
Years later, though I'm no longer identifying with Gedge's lovelorn protagonist, I still thrill to "I'm Not Always So Stupid" for both its lyrical simplicity, its immediately melodic charm and its hyper-caffeinated intensity. Play it loud and strum a hole in your jeans.