Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Wet Wet Wet

A more credible group than many imagine, for me, anyway....

Popped In Souled Out (1987)

Clydebank band Wet Wet Wet had been around since 1982, but this was their first album. The group, as the title suggests, were a mixture of pop and soul, with some rock hints in there with the occasional nod to the new wave they grew up listening to. The group suffered a bit from being dismissed as a teen pop outfit, but in many ways they were more than that. They wrote their songs as a group and they understood music history, often throwing in a reference to a classic from time past, either musically or lyrically. They are a bit hard to categorise. Launching in the eighties, they use a bit of typical eighties backing, but they also use rock guitars and retrospective soul stylings. Vocalist Marti Pellow had a winning, lush soulful voice too. So much so that he could make an ordinary song sound better than it actually was.
Wishing I Was Lucky is a disco-ish groove of a pop song with a hook of a chorus line, but otherwise is a bit of a confused affair. There are influences from early eighties group ABC in there, for me, particularly on the keyboard sound. East Of The River is an eighties-style soul number with a killer brass riff. The lyric "I won't work for nobody but you" is from The MiraclesLove Machine from 1974. I Remember has a nice bass line, a really slowed-down soul/funk beat and a great vocal. The two singles, the sweet soul of Angel Eyes and the Motown-ish Sweet Little Mystery are both absolute perfect pieces of soul/pop, brilliantly executed and deserved hits. Angel Eyes references the Bacharach-David songs The Look Of Love and Walk On By.  

I Don't Believe (Sonny's Letter), maybe surprisingly, namechecks Linton Kwesi Johnson's roots reggae anti-police brutality poem. I am sure the reference was lost on 95% of the people who bought this album. The album's classic track, for me, has always been the magnificent, uplifting soul of Temptation, with its strong "don't waste my fucking spirit" line near the end. Pellow's voice is simply superb on this song. The line "all the tea in China" comes from Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey. "Peace, love and understanding" is a nod to Elvis Costello's What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding.

I Can Give You Everything is a an upbeat piece of disco soul, with wah-wah guitar and funky percussion. The Moment You Left Me is a slow soul ballad lifted higher by Pellow's vocal. 
Words Of Wisdom has a catchy beat but is otherwise pretty unremarkable. Pellow does a bit of Michael Jackson hiccup in his delivery. Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight is a laid-back, brassy cover of a James Taylor song. World In Another is a lively number with a frantic bass line. Although this is a strong ending to the album you can't help but feel the best material was to be found on the first half of it. The best version of the album is the remastered "30th Anniversary" edition.

The Memphis Sessions (1988)

This was a virtually unnoticed album from soon to be chart superstars Wet Wet Wet. It was released after their fist album, before they had become really famous. It is only seven tracks in length and results from sessions in Memphis with legendary producer Willie Mitchell (best known for his work with Al Green and Ann Peebles). Quite how this relatively unknown Scottish band managed to get such a gig is unclear. They definitely struck lucky, although the album slipped completely under the radar. The tracks are mainly Memphis-style re-workings of ones from the debut album, Popped In Souled Out. They are good, too, and personally I prefer many of them to the originals, but then I am a huge Stax fan.
I Don't Believe, as with all the material is done in a warmer, more laid-back and soulful fashion, less sharp and poppy. The sound is a bit more understated, but is more bassy and rich at the same time. The track is also given a vaguely reggae beat (maybe due to its lyrical references to Linton Kwesi Johnson's Sonny's Lettah). Sweet Little Mystery is slowed down somewhat and Marti Pellow's gorgeous vocal is even more enticingly appealing. Booker T-style organ backs the version and while it doesn't have the sheer pop joy of the original, it does have a lush, soul feeling about it. East Of The River has some delicious Memphis horns blasting all over it, like a Southside Johnny track. The backing is so powerful that it almost drowns out Pellow, not quite, though, it would take quite a lot to do that. This Time is a slow ballad with a Prince-esque vocal in places. It has a late-night cocktail bar ambience to it. Temptation has always been my favourite Wet Wet Wet song. Here is it slightly speeded up and given some Stax horns and melodic Memphis guitar sound. While it is a good version, it loses a little of the grandiose pop majesty of the original. 

I Remember has some captivating percussion sounds and seductive horns. For You Are is another late night slow burner, while the cover of Stevie Wonder's Heaven Help Us All is uplifting and credible. This was an impressive, underrated album that is worth checking out. It is certainly not essential, but worth half an hour of your time.

Holding Back The River (1989)

This was Wet Wet Wet's third album and it was mainly populated with smooth, catchy, grandiose pop-soul ballads. It is immaculately played, with excellent quality sound and is probably a better album than it is historically given credit for, as it is rarely spoken of these days.
Sweet Surrender is a gorgeous, laid-back slice of Wet Wet Wet slick soul, with Marti Pellow's voice ideally suited to the track's lush smoothness. It is on tracks like this that he was at his best, as opposed to the more on more bluesy, upbeat material. The same applies to the hit single Can't Stand The Night, which was released as Stay With Me Heartache as the title of the single. It is a reggae-tinged poppy and catchy number. For some reason, "cheeseburger!" is shouted in the middle of the song, just as it was in The Clash's Magnificent Seven from 1981. 

Blue For You is a big, sleek ballad that begins like a James Bond theme tune. Once again, it is high quality stuff, particularly on the vocal delivery. It eventually merges seamlessly into the beautiful, dignified Broke Away, which was also a single, although a surprisingly low-key one. Marti Pellow's charismatic voice is superb on the early material on this album. It is some of the later ones that don't suit him quite so much. You've Had It gave the album some typically eighties synthesised mid-pace disco-ish soul, albeit including a pretty impressive guitar solo midway through. I Wish is a sumptuous, big production ballad, full of sweeping synthesisers, brass, organ and guitar and another great vocal. The ambience continues on the saxophone-augmented Keys To Your Heart. Quality stuff. Unfortunately, the same can't really be said for a rambling messy cover of Rod Stewart's classic Maggie May. It is so much Stewart's song anyway, that it is almost an impossible song to cover, but here Wet Wet Wet never seem to get control of the song as it comes and goes, floating around for six minutes, unsatisfactorily. The album drops in quality somewhat after this as well. 

Hold Back The River is an enjoyable, brass-driven bluesy workout, but, as I hinted at earlier, I feel Pellow's voice didn't do as much justice to material like this as they did to the big typical WWW ballads. Another Clash reference comes in when Jimmy Jazz is announced before a brief jazzy interlude. The final number, How The Hell Did That Get There is an Atlantic meets Dexy's Midnight Runners brass stomp which again finds Pellow's mellifluous voice to be somewhat wanting against such a thumping beat. Overall, however, this is an eminently listenable album to dig out every now and again.

High On The Happy Side (1992)
This was when Clydebank's Wet Wet Wet made it properly as a chart act, with a surprising number one in Goodnight Girl. They continue their unique brand of appealing pop-soul with rock influences on this eminently listenable but now slightly dated album. It could do with a remaster too.

More Than Love is a nice, sweeping ballad that suffers a bit through a muffled production, particularly on the verses, although it improves a bit when the chorus kicks in. Lip Service has a funky, brassy soul feel to it, with some wah-wah guitar, shuffling, gritty percussion and an affected vocal from Marti Pellow. Not a bad track at all. Put The Light On has shades of Del Amitri about it in its acoustic guitar backing and also in Pellow's voice. The title track, High On The Happy Side, is lovely, with a nice late evening backing and yet another impressive vocal. It features a good guitar solo near the end. It is very early nineties though, sounding like the stuff Elton John was doing during the same period. 

Maybe Tomorrow has a thumping big bass line and an atmospheric, slightly mysterious feel to it. Goodnight Girl was a strangely catchy yet sparsely backed song that became the group's first number one. Celebration is an upbeat, acoustically-driven number, and, after an unremarkable beginning, Make it Tonight bursts out with its irresistible chorus. How Long is a singalong, soulful but poppy number. Brand New Sunrise is a late-night jazzy, bluesy crooner with a delicious bass line. 2 Days After Midnite is an excellent, lively piece of soul funk upon which to end an album that is far more than just an offering from a chart pop group. It has considerably more than just a bit of credibility about it.

Picture This (1995)

This was Wet Wet Wet's fourth album (or fifth if you count The Memphis Sessions). This saw the band at the height of their commercial success. Unfortunately, the were never really able to shake off their teen pop image, despite putting out some credible, soulful pop music. They were a proper band, not a stool-sitting, crooning "boy band" and should always be treated as such. This is my favourite of their albums. The group had mastered their sound by now, mixing punchy horns with big string orchestration, plus electric guitar, "proper drums" and singer Marti Pellow's unique, expressive voice. It was a good, solid sound and the production on this album is impressive, you can clearly hear the progress since 1987's Popped In Souled Out.
Julia Says is a beautiful, orchestrated ballad, but an unusual choice for an album opener. It is full of big production. Marti Pellow's vocal is excellent on this, particularly at the end, as the song gets more dramatic. After The Love Goes is sort of Americana meets big, brassy soul. The vocal and verses have hints of The Band about them. The chorus is full-on horn-driven pop-soul. There are folky aspects too, plus a great guitar solo. All sorts of styles are in this one. Somewhere Somehow is a deep, bassy, singalong slow rock ballad. On the second verse Pellow's voice is simply superb - full of genuine soul delivery. Wet Wet Wet may not be to everyone's taste, but I have no shame in saying that I love this track. So I like the Clash, Mott The Hoople, The Ramones, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones as well. So fucking what. Good music is good music. Gypsy Girl is a delightful piece of melodic, acoustic folk-influenced fare. A lovely song. Don't Want To Forgive Me Now was a hit single, full of hooks, a great chorus and an upbeat Elvis Costello feel to it. 

She Might Never Know is a bluesy, brassy number with a bit of Southside Johnny in the vocals and the big brass interjections. It has a nice little bass line near the end. Someone Like You is a grand, soulful ballad with a few country twangs in the guitar backing. Love Is My Shepherd continues the slow trend with another smoky ballad. Most of Wet Wet Wet's albums seemed to have second halves full of sumptuous slow numbers and we get another one here in the rich soul pop of She's All On Mind, which has airs of Burt Bacharach to it. It has a very catchy chorus, as indeed does the quietly majestic Morning. Both of these were lower top twenty hits, largely because of their choruses, no doubt. Home Tonight stays low-key, but solidly bassy in its backing. It has a lovely vocal once more. Then, finally, we get their big one - their huge number one cover of The Troggs' little known and unremarkable track, Love Is All Around, given a barnstorming big production makeoever. It was number one for weeks in 1994. You can hear why, it is simply a great pop record. When Marti sings "oh yes it is"  after delivering the first it is still a tingling moment. For me, anyway.

The album has some great pop-soul moments but, like most of the group's albums, the momentum is lost a bit during the second half as the tempo drops with that series of slower numbers, but let that not detract too much from the general quality on offer. I listened to this album a lot in the nineties and it served as pleasant, casual fare.

10 (1997)

I must admit I quite enjoyed my Wet Wet Wet albums between the late eighties and this one, in 1997. I have no embarrassment about admitting that. This was the last one that I bought, though. Not that this was a bad album, but it was not really offering too much different than any of the previous albums had. Wet Wet Wet had become the go-to band for cod-funk, cod-soul with tinges of cod-country. The production was now super slick, effortless and, because it was so good, the music was losing any edge it may have had. It was all getting a bit too easy. This was probably the group's most easy listening album thus far, too. Their previous albums had their share of uptempo numbers, but they are pretty much non-existent on here. It used to be that their albums often faded out in their second halves with slow-paced ballads. This album is comprised totally of them.                                                

If I Never See You Again is a slick, smooth, big production and very typical Wet Wet Wet ballad to open the album. You know what you're getting here - a good Marti Pellow vocal, big chorus, sweeping strings, some nice guitar interjections. They had mastered the formula by now. Back On My Feet is a punchy piece of horn-driven country soul. I like this one a lot. Fool For Your Love is a melodic, laid-back, easy-ish number. The Only Sounds continues the gentle ambience with a delicious ballad. Pellow's vocal is superb. You still have to give Wet Wet Wet credit for stuff like this. It was perfect, tuneful, romantic pop.

If I Could Only Be With You is another of those big, grandiose ballads. I Want You is a deep, bluesy, late night ballad. It has a lovely bass line. It is another smoochy number. In 1997, it was de rigeur to record a "swing"-style track. Wet Wet Wet duly do that on the Sinatra-influenced jazzy strains of Maybe I'm In Love. It is their own song but very mush in the fifties style. The easy listening vibe continues in the even more jazzily smooth cover of the standard Beyond The Sea. You have to say it is most appealing. Lonely Girl is back to more traditional Wet Wet Wet fare, a soulful number with a vaguely funky background. Strange is a catchy, brassy piece of pop-soul. Theme From Ten is an instrumental which sticks to the ambience of the album. It Hurts has a slightly reggae-influenced beat, but once more, it doesn't deviate from the overall relaxed atmosphere of the album. In fact, this would be the group's final album until they released a reunion one in 2007. It had been ten great years for them, but it was all starting to sound a bit the same so the split probably came at the right time, even though this was a fine-sounding, professional album.

A group with similar white soul success in the same period were Simply Red. Check out their stuff here :-

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