In theory, there's no reason why Wednesday Week shouldn't have been as big as their sisters in 80’s Cali girl group power-poppery, the Bangles or Go-Gos. All the right elements were in place: a pair of cute rockin' sibs (singer/guitarist Kristi Callan and drummer Kelly Callan), sweet backing vocals from bassist Heidi Rodewald, a guy guitarist (David Nolte) with a full arsenal of Duane Eddy-isms at his pick 'n' call, plus an affinity for strong, hooky guitar-based pop-rock and simple well-wrought lyrics. Why wasn't this band of smart poppers bigger?
Listening to their 1987 Enigma long-player, What We Had (currently reissued on the Noble Rot label), the answer becomes quickly clear. Though packed with infectious pop tunes, the basic sound of the disc (courtesy producer Don Dixon) is just too 80's college radio to break with a larger audience. Pop-rock this pristine should be upfront, not buried in studio echo like a Joy Division track. Listen to a cut like "Feel So Small," with its handclap rhythms and irrepressible chorus, and you think, "This song should pop! out of my speakers!" when Dixon is still playing with the murky textures of his early REM productions. Not the route to instant radio hookability, which is what these sisters needed.
Play What We Had through four or five times, though, and Wednesday Week's pop greatness comes through in spite of Dixon’s sonic decisions – though you still occasionally wish that the lyrics to a swell kiss-off song like "Boy (You Got Me Good)" came through more clearly. The big exceptions to all this are "Missionary," a hard-rockin' number with a guitar hook reminiscent of the Go-Gos' "Lust to Love," and "Suicide," Kristi's rueful consideration of a lost friend. Both tracks manage to be in sync with the LP's mysterioso sound.
Still, songs like the regret-drenched "I Wonder What You Hear" and "If Only" (strong basswork on this 'un) remain Class-A pop creations, while "Circle" rocks with the brio of an original Pretenders cut. ("Mystery Achievement," f'rinstance.) As a vocalist, Kristi Callan has a slighter brittler edge than a full-time flirter like Sussana Hoffs, but she really makes you feel her heroines' plights. This is indie pop that still deserves to be heard by a larger audience.
In addition to What We Had's thirteen cuts, Noble Rot's reissue includes all five tracks from an earlier band EP, Betsy's House, plus five more extras from various permutations of the band. The House cuts sound rougher, but are still compelling – particularly the teen-angsty "I Hate Lying to Mom" and jangly "I Don't Know." The only duff track is a woozy Christmas song from a little heard alt rock holiday collection. It sounds like an old vinyl 45 left out in the sun too long, but, hey, at least it's not as egregious as Joan Jett warbling "Little Drummer Boy."
"Looking back just makes me sad," Kristi sings on her band's title track. Listening to the lost opportunities on this great disc of alt-pop, you're liable to agree. But even through the haze of time and a debatable production choice, What We Had is still very very fine.