Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

In an unlimited-part series, we’re going to celebrate and countdown to the upcoming Wedding Present show at the Crocodile. On Wednesday, April 21, our Balladeers for the Brokenhearted will take the stage and play their influential 1989 album, Bizarro, it its entirety from “Brassneck” to “Be Honest” and some (fingers crossed) b-sides. {Enter to win a pair of tickets to the show}

To mark this momentous event, I asked some fellow weddoes fans to share their Bizarro story, explaining what their favorite song from the album is and why.

We’re going to kick off today’s installment of Bizarro-ness with one entry that features one of my favorite Gedge titles of all time: Gedge as the patron saint of the ex-boyfriend.

Want to share your Bizarro story? Email your story to us at tig @ threeimaginarygirls . com with the subject line of Bizarro.

Big thanks to Derek for this tale of Bizarro love!

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2YVPgYE3Qg]

It really is very difficult to single out one song from Bizarro to focus on.  It was a landmark album in my development as a music fan.  But for me, I think it has to be the first single, “Kennedy”.  Incredibly, I actually have MTV to thank for first introducing me to the band.

Back then, “120 Minutes” with Dave Kendall was appointment viewing (or taping, anyway…it was on pretty late on Sunday nights).  Each week I would diligently digest every song Kendall served up, copying down info on the tracks I liked which I’d then set about attempting to track down.  Back in 1989 you really had to make an effort to find independent music; the best you could hope for from the local Strawberries was a copy of Substance 1987 if you were lucky (and that had probably been shipped there by mistake).

I’ll never forget seeing the video and hearing “Kennedy” for the first time.

If you’re familiar with the song, you’ll know the lyrics are pretty obscure.  They are ostensibly about Jackie Kennedy and somebody named “Harry” with (what I assume is) a reference to Lee Harvey Oswald thrown in.  I would later come to appreciate Gedge as a brilliant lyricist and patron saint of the ex-boyfriend, but this wasn’t going to be the song that did that.

I’ve listened to “Kennedy” literally hundreds of times and I’m still not quite sure what it’s about; which probably underscores even more how much the music itself grabbed me by the ears and refused to let go.

Firstly, I had, at that point, never heard guitars played like that.  It seemed as if Gedge was trying to saw his instrument in twain.

Behind the wall of distorted guitars courtesy of Gedge and Solowka was the precise, military drumming of Simon Smith, and a guttural bass line laid down by Keith Gregory.  I was loving it for the first minute and a half of the song, but when you hear “Kennedy” for the very first time, it’s a bit difficult to single out all the component parts that make up the sound of the track as a whole.

One of the masterstrokes of the song, however, is what happens next:  The Wedding Present allows us to view the component parts which make up the complex structure of the song and appreciate each in its own right.

At 1:21 comes a segment where the band mashes the clutch down and the track rolls on under its own momentum.  The bass stops and the guitars release their chokehold on you and fade away, leaving only Smith’s staccato drumming as Gedge repeats the refrain of the song (and you still have no idea what he’s on about).  You can now focus on the excellent drumwork…and then, at 1:39, Gregory’s bass returns, and is allowed to parade around the middle of the track angrily.

I loved the distortion used and the bass line itself so much…primal and angry… that I literally remember a huge grin breaking across my face like a wave on a shoreline.  One of the best bass riffs I’d ever heard in my life, and whatever distortion effect they were using was absolutely brilliant in its aggressiveness (if I were to level one piece of criticism at the current incarnation of The Wedding Present, it’s that whatever pedal Terry DeCastro uses for the song when they play live, it’s not “angry” enough, and that part of the song lacks in punch as a result).  Paired with the drums now, the rhythm tandem works together as Gedge growls through the remainder of the lyrics.

Finally, at 2:03, the band puts the song back in gear, pops the clutch, and the frenetic guitars crack like a whip back into place.  One more run through the cryptic lyrics, and then two glorious minutes of building guitars over the drums and bass.  Amazing.

But it is those two moments at 1:21 and 2:03 which together removed any doubt: this song was brilliant, and I needed to find “Bizarro” immediately to see what else this band could do.  Within a week, I had found an independent record store that had a copy in stock, and duly drove nearly an hour to purchase the orange long-box with the green splodge on the front (this was the alternate cover-art for the US version w/ the b-sides tacked on, including Albini’s superior mix of “Brassneck”).

I had to wait to get home to play the CD (tape deck only in the 1982 Volvo 240 DL wagon), but one run through of Bizarro and I knew this was going to be a favorite band.  The album is one of the all-time great guitar records, and did not disappoint based on the foundation laid down with “Kennedy”.

I am very much looking forward to seeing it played in its entirety this spring.  A classic.