Critiquing music is all about confusing people. No joke—it’s a bunch of semi-arbitrary adjectives pieced together in an effort to make people go: “Wow, this guy must really know what he’s talking about, because I have no idea what he just said.” Sweeping guitars? Typically quixotic (and enjoyable) crooning about love or the lack thereof? Fuzzy landscapes painted by hearty percussion and sly bass lines? Really? What does that even mean? Well, whatever it means, that’s what encapsulates the Wedding Present’s latest LP.
Somewhat expectedly, El Rey sees frontman David Gedge reprising a career-long role reminiscent of Val Kilmer’s disguise-swapping virtuoso performance in his 1997 film The Saint. (An unexpected but totally clever reference that’s not that big a stretch, trust me.) Over the better part of two decades, the Weddoes have shifted from low-budget ’80s Euro-indie rock (1987’s George Best) to spiny, one-word-song-title jabs (1991’s Seamonsters) to gritty punk underscores (1996’s Saturnalia), all the while being driven (done in?) by their candy-filled indie-pop heartache center. Similar, really, to how Kilmer switches in and out of disguise in The Saint like some super-spy badass, insisting that he’s chasing his big payday while actually chasing something infinitely more important: himself. (See, totally clever.)
As emotionally tangential and sardonic as the rest of their discography, El Rey manages to skillfully dance in and around standard Wedding Present content: love and heartache. Guided by Gedge’s usual bumbling wit—“I could fall in love with you/And if I recall, she said, ‘I like you too’ ”—and solidified by finally having a mostly established band, this record is less impressive than their pre-’90s work, but better than anything since 1994, and generally a welcome addition to their already established résumé. Plus, if nothing else, they’re from London, which means everything they say sounds at least twice as smart as when you say it.