Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Genius Of... David Gedge #2

#2: Dalliance

‘Bizarro’ proved that there was more to the Wedding Present than moping Northerners with jangly guitars. It also led to a new chapter in the band’s development. Teaming up with Steve Albini to re-record the album’s opening track Brassneck for a single proved to be a masterstroke. While Albini long had a reputation for being a not particularly easy person to get along with, there’s no doubting his talents and influence as a producer. The Albini/Weddoes pairing proved not just fruitful, but revolutionary.

After Brassneck came the ‘3 Songs’ EP, again with Albini at the helm. Already, a new Wedding Present sound was beginning to emerge – something altogether rawer, noisier, some might say nastier. The following year, the band’s third album hit the shelves, and by way of introduction, it was led by the single Dalliance. To many fans, including this one, it came as a bit of a shock.

Dalliance still displayed some of David Gedge’s finest trademarks, but there was added spark. Maybe us fans expected something lively like Kennedy to lead us into the new record. Instead, Dalliance starts quietly – very quietly, in fact – and somewhat restrained; Gedge practically whispers the opening lines.

Interestingly, the characters in Dalliance are based on real people. Simply by switching the sex of the protagonist to male and his subject to female, Gedge relates the feelings of a spurned lover who after having an affair with a married woman for seven years, has now found himself dumped as she goes back to her husband. In real life, the spurned lover was Sarah Johnson, the married party being Leo Cooper, husband of novelist Jilly. Ms Johnson went public in 1990 when news of the affair broke, claiming that despite the extra-marital activity lasting six years, Cooper simply referred to it as a mere ‘dalliance’ when explaining himself.

As the song progresses, the resentment and anger of the jilted flame grows – the drums get louder, the guitars do too and Gedge’s voice becomes more audible. By the time we get to the final verse, pure rage has set in. Gedge growls: 

  “I was yours for seven years / Is that what you call a dalliance?” 

It becomes the Wedding Present’s noisiest, angriest song to date and set the template for the album, ‘Seamonsters’, perhaps the most dark, daring and difficult of all their work. 

While Melody Maker dismissed it at the time as “like sandpapering your ears”, ‘Seamonsters’ has gone on to be regarded as the band’s masterpiece. It was, in essence, what you might call ‘proto-grunge’. Over the ensuing 18 months, a slew of bands (mainly from the US) would turn their guitars and distortion up to the max, the singers would growl and holler their disdainful, angst-ridden lyrics, and the world would embrace the alternative rock revolution. While grunge was at its multi-platinum corporate peak, the Weddoes could look back in a ‘been there, done that, bought the obligatory Nirvana t-shirt’ kind of way as they moved onto their next project.

So here’s the bold claim – David Gedge from northern England invented grunge; Dalliance beats Smells Like Teen Spirit as the first proper alt-rock/grunge hit single, and ‘Seamonsters’ was the first Top 20 grunge album. Presenting exhibit B in the case for the defence: Dalliance.

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