Bands with iron-clad musical legacies spanning multiple decades face an unenviable dilemma at the point that their magnetic and charismatic frontmen choose to depart the band to pursue solo endeavors. While each member adds his or her stamp to the sonic tapestry that defines the sound of the band, the most instantly recognizable element of the music is the lead singer’s distinct voice. Hence, when the lead singer leaves, the band is faced with two painful choices – dissolving as a creative entity and calling it quits as a band OR making the rather polarizing (relative to their audience) decision of replacing their lead singer with someone new. Neither of these alternatives is remotely desirable. Furthermore, these replacement endeavors seem to be rather short-lived but new material with a new lead singer does breathe new life into the band giving its members a path forward. In fact, new material is critical to the new formation of the band having even a glimmer of a future. A few years ago, New Wave act Spandau Ballet was faced with this choice when their lead singer Tony Hadley left the band to pursue a solo career. They replaced him with Ross William Wild. This was not accompanied by new material and the new formation was incredibly short-lived. In 2006, Culture Club tried replacing their iconic and flamboyant frontman Boy George with a little-known Sam Butcher. This experiment failed even before it could truly materialize. Australian rock band INXS took a rather unconventional approach of replacing their deceased lead singer Michael Hutchence with the winner of a reality show (which was essentially a prolonged audition to be the new lead singer of the band). Many considered this endeavor to be myopic sacrilege – but in a strange way, it worked and gave INXS a younger audience and a hit album “Switch”. This looked like it could work long-term since the album yielded potent radio fodder in the form of songs such as “Afterglow” and “Never let you go”. The album’s success was undoubtedly also buoyed by the popularity of the reality TV show “Rock star INXS”. Yet, the band parted ways with their new lead singer JD Fortune soon after a long world tour. Wet Wet Wet, one of the most successful musical exports from Scotland, were at a similar crossroads a few years ago when their roguishly good-looking and vocally endowed lead singer Marti Pellow unceremoniously departed from the band to pursue solo projects. Their streak of success began in the 80s with their first hit single “Wishing I was lucky” (taken from their UK #1 debut album “Popped in and souled out”). They reached their commercial zenith in the early to mid-90s with down-tempo hits such as “Goodnight girl”, “Julia Says”, and the timeless classic “Love is all around” (featured in the hit movie “Four Weddings And A Funeral” starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell). “Love is all around” catapulted the band to global success (with the US being the exception) and guaranteed the band lasting power until the end of the 90s. Their 2007 album “Timeless” did not mirror the commercial fortunes of their previous albums despite producing the UK top 10 single “Weightless”. But this did not matter as the band was able to tour regularly and play to large audiences on the strength of their rich and hit-heavy back-catalog. When Marti Pellow left the band, the rest of the members made the rather bold decision of replacing him with Kevin Simm – a former member of the British-Irish pop group Liberty X and winner of the 2016 Voice UK contest. Kevin understood from the very beginning that his presence as the new frontman was going to alienate some die-hard Wet Wet Wet fans. He also vocalized his desire NOT to be a stand-in for Marti Pellow, knowing the big shoes he had to fill. This desire is also made obvious by his radically different vocal aesthetic – one that is reminiscent of the soulful voices that dominated the heyday of the New Jack Swing era in the US. Despite having toured with Wet Wet Wet over the last few years, it is only with the release of “The Journey” (his first album with Wet Wet Wet) that his inclusion marks a new chapter in the band’s story and has made him an intricate part of the band’s sonic legacy. The results of this burst of new creativity have finally seen the light of day today with the release of the band’s new album “The Journey” – their first studio album of new material in 14 years.

In a BBC Sounds interview with John Fox, the band’s drummer Tommy Cunningham says “We have not tried to reinvent the wheel. We have been very true to who we are” about the new album. This is very obvious after one listen of the entire album. While the band skyrocketed to prominence with their uptempo hit single “Wishing it was lucky”, it was their downtempo hits that earned them their place in the UK music scene (and this extended to the rest of the world after the success of “Love is all around”). Wet Wet Wet plays to these strengths with an album that is predominantly down-tempo but retains the quintessential elements of their classic sound – sophisticated artistry, great horn arrangements, and layered production. The album’s name “The Journey” is a reference to the band’s story that had both dizzying highs and crushing lows and finally the crossroads that brought them their new lead singer Kevin Simm.

There was an abundance of skepticism with regards to the band’s ability to re-create the magic they shared with their former lead singer Marti Pellow (although some might argue that the magic had started to erode for the band right when the 90s ended). Some of those apprehensions dissipated in August 2021 when the band released the album’s lead single “Back To Memphis”(and the opening track for the album) – a nod to the band’s early recording sessions in Memphis (Tennessee) while they were working on their debut album “Popped In And Souled Out”. It is fascinating to hear the band’s new lead singer sing about a seminal experience of the band that he was not a part of. The song’s lyrics epitomize the experience of those early days:

I hear the music, I feel the sound
Been high on soul food
I’m not coming down
The Southern Moonlight and the delta sun

The layered sonic elements on the song’s chorus are somewhat reminiscent of those on the band’s 1993 hit single “Shed a tear”. It is without a doubt a modern classic.

The songs that follow are pleasant enough but not necessarily memorable. The next highlight (Track #6) is the jazzy and brilliant “Cold Black Coffee Blues”. Songs like this one are an indication that Wet Wet Wet should have indulged the jazz-lite end of their musical spectrum a lot more on previous records. It suits them well and plays into the band’s core competencies. This song is both reminiscent of and stands in stark contrast to the relatively minimalist (in comparison) “Brand New Sunrise” (from the band’s 1992 album “High On The Happy Side”). It benefits from fantastic horn arrangements and an achingly beautiful guitar solo.

Beautiful Sunshine” (Track #8), the song that really ought to have been the follow-up single to “Back To Memphis” is the album’s third and final highlight. It showcases lead singer Kevin Simm’s finest moments as he indulges his exemplary falsetto (especially on the song’s outro). It is understandable why the band thought of Kevin as a worthy successor to his predecessor. They needed someone with vocal chops and Kevin undoubtedly rises to the occasion – especially on this song.

The last four songs of the album are far less memorable than the songs on the first half and make for a rather lackluster ending.

I rarely ever thought of Wet Wet Wet as being an “albums” band. I saw them more as a band that churned out great singles distributed across multiple albums. This is what makes their multiple “Greatest Hits” collections must-haves for a pop/rock aficionado. The closest they came to making near-perfect albums was on “High On The Happy Side” and “Picture This”. None of the other albums have come close despite featuring some great singles. “The Journey” follows that tradition. While die-hard Wet Wet Wet fans are likely to enjoy the album in its entirety, casual fans and skeptics are likely to only latch on to the album highlights mentioned above. We applaud Wet Wet Wet for taking a chance on a life as a band without their original lead singer and embracing a new recording dynamic by recording each member’s parts for the album separately during the Covid19 lockdown. Hopefully, the band builds on their newfound dynamic and improves on “The Journey” with their next release (which is hopefully NOT a decade from now considering it has been 14 years since they released their last album “Timeless”). As for our verdict on the album, it is pleasant but not earthshattering. That being said, given that this blog is attached to a 24/7 online radio broadcast that is constantly craving high-quality radio fodder, I would rather live in a world wherein Wet Wet Wet continues to give us songs such as “Back to Memphis” and “Beautiful Sunshine” – even if it is without Marti Pellow.

STAR RATING: 3.5 out of 5 stars


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In case you did not pick up on this earlier, the blog you are reading is affiliated with Radio Creme Brulee – an online radio station that features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. Alongside newer artists, we also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s,90s, and the 00s. Noteworthy examples include Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet, Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Dubstar, Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Suede, The Corrs, Jamiroquai, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.

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