XTC – “Playground”
THE WEDDING PRESENT – “Sports Car (Acoustic)” (From the Cooking Vinyl compilation ‘Delicatessen Two’)
I bought the Delicatessen Two compilation because it had a new XTC track on it, the first I’d heard from the upcoming Apple Venus Volume 2. Now, the threat with AV2 was that it was going to be XTC’s ‘rock’ album, which filled me with dread, since XTC haven’t been able to rock effectively since they stopped living on amphetamines sometime in the late 70s. And my dread was well-founded: “Playground” is limp pun-strewn power-pop which really isn’t worth very much of your time. Since even XTC’s good exercises in bouncy retropop (“Earn Enough For Us”, say) tend to be overshadowed by the swirlier or more pastoral stuff surrounding them, a whole album of this is not something I’m too excited about.
So was the compilation (budget, don’t worry) a washout? No, actually. It’s been years since I heard a ‘new’ Wedding Present song, and since their early-90s records had soundtracked more shameful crushes that I like to remember, I’d filed them away as a band I’d ‘grown out of’ – even when going back and writing about them. But one listen to “Sports Car” and it all came back: David Gedge still writing pared-down conversational lyrics which drag themselves in slow circles round collapsing relationships, still writing simple pop melodies to go with them. “Sports Car” in its acoustic version gets round the classic Wedding Present problem (Gedge’s phlegmy voice) by being sung by someone else, and the toned-down instrumentation gives the song a weepy fragility which the band generally only imply, but other than that: business as usual. From a rational standpoint you’d imagine there were only so many times Gedge could work the formula, and of course we’ve heard it all before, but then hey, so have the people in the songs.