The Wedding Present and David Gedge have never shied away from celebrating their own work. They've undertaken many tours to celebrate anniversaries of albums, revisited old songs, and remade old albums in new contexts, like their redo of George Best. 2018 was the 30th birthday of their singles and sessions comp Tommy and the group played a series of shows to commemorate the occasion. With longtime drummer Charles Layton on board, bassist Terry De Castro back in the fold and Danielle Wadey moving from bass to guitar, the group gave the old songs a new, more powerful kick, enough so that Gedge figured they were worth recording again. Hence Tommy 30. The original album was hindered by a tinny, almost weedy sound that captured the band's youthful exuberance but not their punch. Three decades later, the sound is much fuller and more tightly controlled. The rhythm section is rock-solid and anchor heavy; the guitars far less clicky and wiry; and the production is more spacious without being overly clean. They make an interesting decision to go for a guitar sound that's closer to Seamonsters than Tommy; and Wadey's tough-and-tumble playing adds an exciting edge to the proceedings. Instead of the bright and eager feel on the mid-'80s recordings, the band sounds huge and gnarly. "You Should Always Keep in Touch with Your Friends" sounds massive; "Living and Learning" has the fast-chugging momentum of a bullet train, and the cover of Orange Juice's "Felicity" has a positively ugly guitar attack. Strangely, Gedge sounds like he's aged about three weeks instead of 30 years; his vocals have all of his usual growling bite and plaintive appeal as they did when he was (much) younger. It's interesting hearing a man in his late fifties singing songs he wrote when he was a callow youth; there are competing threads of wistful melancholy and painful nostalgia coming through on songs like "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?" and "This Boy Can Wait" that give the words some newly added depth. The whole album somehow has more emotional heft this time; maybe because of the impressively heavy sound, maybe thanks to the passage of time. Either way, this isn't a wasted trip into the past. Gedge and company delve deep into the band's history, and while they haven't exactly improved it; they've brought Tommy back to life in a new and compelling way. You won't want to trade in your weathered copy of the original, but the next time you want to hear these songs, it might be Tommy 30 that ends up crashing through the speakers.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra