I’ve never woken up after a night on the tiles with someone I didn’t know, but I’ve often woken up to find a tell-tale Tower Records bag lying on the floor. There are records you just have to have at eleven at night, and they tend, shall we say, not to be records you’re entirely unfamiliar with anyway. On this occasion, The Wedding Present’s Bizarro, though I have horrendous and hopefully alien-implanted memories of fondling a copy of the Carter USM singles collection, the purchase of which would surely have caused me to give up both lager and music forever.


My most powerful memory of Bizarro from the time of release was of buying it, going to a disco that evening and skulking out after two shitty hours so I could go home and listen to it. It’s a memory I summon up occasionally whenever I need reminding of what a hopeless case I was at age 16 (though the kind of boy who would contemplate leaving a disco to listen to the new Wedding Present record isn’t really the kind of boy who’d have pulled anyone anyway, so no harm ultimately done). Bizarro struck me then as a particularly appropriate album to do that kind of thing with, seeing as it’s all about unrequited infatuation and soured relationships and hopeless puppydog crushes.

I only listened to the lyrics of course, carefully weighing up each line for its personal relevance and marking up my favourite tracks accordingly. The record never quite grabbed me musically, anyway: it seemed harsh and tunnel-visioned, overcommitted to guitar flurry and drone. The closing six minutes of “Take Me!” in particular felt like a monstrous waste of time – why use all that space for thrashy guitars when you could be delineating yet another romantic fuck-up for your vicarious, defeatist teenage boy audience, eh Gedge?

Listening to it now it strikes me that David Gedge’s instincts were pretty much spot on. Bizarro‘s morose lyrics I can take or leave these days – sometimes they’re cute (“Orange slices and that Fall LP” – aww), sometimes gratingly accurate (pretty much all of “What Have I Said Now?”), more often they make him out to be an unsympathetic, tongue-tied, doormat. But the rock! Leaving off a couple of weak attempts to do something punky-tough, most of Bizarro stakes out a strange territory halfway between jangly indiepop melodics and the lost-chord voyagings of Glenn Branca. And it works.

Bizarro is a remarkably tough, sinewy record, especially for a 1989 British release: unlike Seamonsters, though, it doesnt strip down its rock impulses or play much with dynamics. Rather the Wedding Present want to overwhelm you, layering guitar on guitar until you’re picking out the melody from a thick soup of noise. “Take Me!”‘s endless coda is the best example of this – it takes a sweet song somewhere else entirely, rattling away as if Gedge and the band believe that they can get the girl by sheer force of guitar will. The excellent “Bewitched” is underpinned by a hard, clangorous drone, and also ascends into noise for two beautiful final minutes. “What Have I Said Now?”‘s dogged rumbling is one of the most complete marriages of music and content that indie rock has ever devised.

And of course Bizarro has “Kennedy”, the Wedding Present’s finest four minutes because it’s all about the music. Gedge’s lyrics are utter nonsense, just something for him to spit out while the group rampage through the (then) ultimate indie disco smash: the opening fire-alarm riff makes for one of 80s pop’s most exciting intros, and after that it’s pure jangle-noise, monochromatic bliss. It’s amazing to think now that this group were so often opposed by critics to the oceanic-rock and head-melting artmusic of Spacemen 3, AR Kane et al. – it gets there by different routes, but the sound of Bizarro in full throttle is just as voluptuous as anything those groups did. But I guess you can’t be a proper art band if you insist on singing about girls.