Somebody once worked out that one Scottish home in seven had a copy of Wet Wet Wet’s debut album, Popped In Souled Out. Now, writes Alastair Mabbott, High On The Happy Side looks headed the same way — though perhaps not in the same homes.
The greatest comeback since Lazarus might be one way of putting it. Certainly. we‘re unlikely to see even as forceful a character as Mrs Thatcher returning from the wilderness so decisively as Wet Wet Wet. Mere weeks ago. the press. most memorably in a strongly-worded Scotland On Sunday article. announced that Clydebank‘s very own Fab Four were washed-up. Deceased. Passed on. An ex-band.
The first two singles from their then-unreleased High On The Happy Side did uncharacteristically badly. Then the album was put back from the intensely competitive pre-Christmas boom to a quieter February release date. Not that anyone at Phonogram. the bands record company. or Precious. their management. would admit to getting cold feet. The delay was instead attributed variously to difficulties with sleeve art and the . Wets' snap decision to record an album's-worth of ' cover versions to accompany the release.
Worst of all. two small gigs booked for the Henry 1 Wood Hall in Glasgow and Calton Studios in Edinburgh experienced great difficulty selling out. If Wet Wet Wet couldn‘t pull a small crowd on their home turf. then something was very wrong.
It seemed that it was time to sit back and watch the Wets crumble. But they failed to oblige. The third single. ‘Goodnight Girl'. reached the Number One position with ease. and the future of High On The Happy Side now looks assured.
It might not — or just might — be significant that after announcing that live gigs would not be arranged until they had gauged the reaction to the LP. the Wets organisation set up a tour which included the SECC and the Playhouse — as though. if they believed in themselves enough. they could turn their fortunes around by sheer willpower. Well. ifso. it worked.
One theory is that the good TV the band got at Christmas — including the Coronation Street Christmas disco — was instrumental in whipping up the public consciousness. Or perhaps the public took this long to get used to the Wets as grown-up balladeers. Holding Back The River was a trying
period for them. Fully aware of how any band
whose first flush of success involves staring down from the walls of fourteen-year-old girls‘ bedrooms has a very precarious future. they also knew how suspicious and hostile their reception could be ifthey wanted to ‘maturc‘ into the AOR bracket. The task before them then. as it had always been. it seems. was to make as painless as possible a shift ofaudience from. say. the territory ofCuriosity Killed The Cat to. say. that ofSimply Red. (A dangerous name to drop since manager
: Elliot Davis' now-famous assertion that ‘Marti
Pellow has got more fucking soul. talent and passion in his fuckingpenis than Mick llueknall has got in his whole fucking body". but ifit'll get the demographics fixed in your mind. what the heck...)
Before the echoes oftheir triumphant free concert on Glasgow Green had died. and with the pressures of having to recoup in record sales and other revenue the money it cost to stage. the band watched as their second proper album. Holding Back The River. shipped only 1.5 million copies. This was many times more what most of their contemporaries were selling. and far from a failure by those standards. but still only a third of the units shipped by Popped In Sou/ed Out. At least they had the Number One single ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ to console them.
Nowadays. the band take some share of the responsibility. sttggesting that they shouldn‘t have produced it themselves and that they should have taken more interest in its promotion.
DrummerTommy Cunningham commented ‘Since Popped In Sou/ed ()at. we'd been on the road. for promotion. for about two years. so what happened. we got very sick of the so-called
«a in. .
glamorous side of the business, the ﬂying about and all that. so we actually kind ofdestroyed our own image. We actually went out ofour way to be the opposite of what everyone thought. And that way. we found we could. ifyou like, re-invent the band a little bit.‘
They have never made any secret of the artists they admire (Elvis Costello and Squeeze are two.
and check their covers album for some more) and made their intentions clear enough on their first
professional recordings. The Memphis Sessions.
A which were scrapped by Phonogram for not being
commercial enough. but were much admired when they eventually gained a low-key release. But whenever the Wets are quoted in cold hard print about their desire for more credibility as songwriting craftsmen rather than pop stars. it
; comes over as a calculated master plan.
One who knows the band well begs to differ: ‘l
don‘t think it was ever contrived. it just sort of
happened. l‘d argue that ifyou listen to the very earliest demos and everything that they‘ve done subsequently. only the very first album [Popped In Sou/ed Out] sounds out of line. It was only really the debut album that sounds different. and even then. ifyou actually analyse it. only four or five tracks on that album. all of which were produced by Michael Baker and Axel Kroll. are not the ones which were from the original batch ofdemos or done in Scotland. They’re the ones which sound like they were deliberately popified. ifyou see what I mean.‘
The question is. are they going to have to go through this rigmarole next time as well? High On The Happy Side is on Phonogram Records. -
ON FOLLOWING PAGES: MCCOY TYNER O FENN O FAIRPORT CONVENTION 0 JAMES LP
The List 14— 27 February 1992 27