Review: “Holding Back The River” by Wet Wet Wet (Limited Edition CD, 1989)

Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown is a limited edition of the 1989 album Holding Back The River by four-piece group Wet Wet Wet. Is this album like a glistening swimming pool, or a wet weekend? Read on…

Wet Wet Wet - Holding Back The River (1989) album

This 10 track album opens with hit lead single Sweet Surrender – probably one of Wet Wet Wet’s most famous tracks (it reached #6 in the UK). This is a perfect slice of late-80s pop – a slick production, mixed with Marti Pellow‘s soulful vocals, although at 6m 1s, it does feel a little too long.

Next up is what became the fourth and final single, (Stay With Me Heartache) Can’t Stand The Night, and whilst this track has writing credits to the group, there’s a familiar line in ‘We don’t live there no more. We got a room on the second floor. Oh we don’t live there no more‘ – sounding very much like it’s been lifted from Carrie by Cliff Richard. The track is quite catchy – with strings from The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, but it wasn’t strong enough to capture the UK single-buying public, with the song charting at #30.

A dramatic orchestral section opens the third track Blue For You, sounding like something you’d expect on a Bond film, or at least the Milk Tray advert. The orchestra is expertly arranged by Anne Dudley, whose career and credits read like music royalty. Marti’s vocals work well here. Strings and brass lead the song out towards the fourth track.

Second single Broke Away is up next, again opening with strings. The tempo is slow for this song, and it reminds me a little of some medieval tune, mixed with 80s ballad. This track gives Marti ample room to show off his vocals skills – and he’s sounding rich and confident here. This track sounds unlike anything that’s preceded it on the album, but when you look at the single release timing, you notice that it’s late November 1989… perhaps making this a slow-paced contender for the 1989 Christmas number one slot  – which went to Band Aid IIDo They Know It’s Christmas? (upon which Wet Wet Wet appeared).

The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra returns for You’ve Had It, although it starts off sounding like something from Michael Jackson‘s Dangerous album until Marti’s vocals begin, and then it swiftly switches over to something that sounds like one of Rick Astley‘s album tracks, with extra strings. It’s a fairly catchy song, but Marti’s vocals feel just a bit too soft for it and therefore don’t stand out enough against the music.

Sixth track Wish starts with some gentle organ and guitar strumming. This is a slow, gentle track. Marti’s vocals duel with some finger clicks before the song begins to steadily build. By 1m 30s the drums turn heavy and are pitched against electric guitar, and Marti’s soft vocals turn to follow suit – becoming much stronger. I like the acoustic strumming at the start of this song, and also the little trumpet and trombone blasts. This is quite a nice song, and one that switches between the slow and soft, through to the fast and loud at regular intervals.

Up next is Keys To Your Heart, and this gives Obligatory 80s Saxophone plenty of time to show off time and time again. This is a slow plodding ballad, which in turn allows Marti to give some emphatic vocal long notes. This is a pretty standard 80s ballad, totally inoffensive, and totally forgettable.

The Rod Stewart hit Maggie May gets a cover next, starting with some lovely intricate guitar. There’s some nice backing vocals and harmonies in this version though, and it feels much gentler than the original.

Ninth track, and third single Hold Back The River, is the final track to get a mention on the album artwork. This is a slow, slinky song, and feels like it’s from another era. There’s plenty of piano, brass, and even a double-bass solo, but its contrasting style to the rest of 1990’s chart, gave this single a placing of #31 in the UK. This was their lowest charting single by that point.

Then, tucked away at the end, making this a limited edition, is the track How The Hell Did They Get There. This feels like a bit of a continuation of previous track Hold Back The River, and somewhat like it lost its way to the 1980 Blues Brothers film soundtrack. This track is of a faster pace though, but like the previous song, drops in and out of styles. There’s tons of brass, piano, organ, and Marti singing some highly stylised phrases. Including a bit that sounds like he’s become possessed at about 3m and barks like a dog (he’s actually sing-growling ‘gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta‘).

Wet Wet Wet’s lead single ‘Sweet Surrender’


Over all, this album is a very mixed bag. It starts well with Sweet Surrender, gets a little lost in the middle, and ends oddly as if it’s not by Wet Wet Wet.

This edition of the album was amongst the first 1,000 copies of the album, and was supplied to Littlewoods retail stores in the UK – there’s no ‘limited edition’ sticker, but it’s the final unlisted track that indicates that this was limited. For those ‘rare edition’ hunters, you’re not missing much by passing this edition by.

Rated 2 stars - A tough listen!
  • POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 2 / 5
  • 1989 UK CHART POSITION: #2, certified 2x Platinum
  • POP RESCUE 2015 COST: £1.00 from a Poundland store.

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