In 1992, the year Singles froze Seattle in celluloid as a haven for slackers fixated on bad relationships and double espressos, British guitar band the Wedding Present were cranking out a single a month for RCA. Over hyperactive fretting and anxious lyrics that might have befitted a B-side to Paul Westerberg's "Waiting for Somebody," these songs—later compiled on The Hit Parade—sounded like one side of a tense phone call: "Are you being unfaithful to me?" barked vocalist David Gedge, opening the book of love to its ugliest page.
A quick comparison between "Unfaithful" and "It's for You," from the Wedding Present's new Take Fountain (Manifesto), suggests the marker in that book hasn't moved: "It's for you/But you didn't need to say that/Because you already knew/How many times is it today that/He's had to call?/It's as if you're still together/I don't care at all/I'm just wondering whether/You think you and he will ever run out of things/You'll have to talk about." The difference this time is that Gedge has taken his angst with him to Seattle and back.
Take Fountain was written and recorded in Seattle with Steve Fisk (Gedge lived here from 2003 to 2004) and plays modestly as an homage to Lower Queen Anne. But, Gedge warns over the phone from England, "The stories in my writing can happen anywhere. I didn't want Take Fountain to be a concept record: 'David Gedge's Seattle Album.' I felt it was quite important to make the odd reference to my surroundings, though they don't play a role [in the songs' stories]."
Along with the change in geography, Gedge reverted from his band Cinerama, which emphasized strings and keyboards instead of the drowned-in-sound guitars of Gedge and Simon Cleave, to the Wedding Present, which he founded in Leeds in 1985 and put on hiatus after 1997's Saturnalia. This shift is less confusing than it might sound—the only difference in the two bands' lineups was keyboardist and feminine foil Sally Murrell, who played in Cinerama. "Even after we started including Wedding Present songs in [Cinerama's] set, Take Fountain was still always going to be the fourth Cinerama album," Gedge says. In early 2004, when Cinerama recorded some guitar-heavy tracks for the late John Peel's BBC Radio 1 program, Gedge recalls, "Even the engineers were saying, 'Come on, David, this is obviously the Wedding Present again!'"
Like the couple Gedge acts as a go- between for in "It's for You," the songwriter hasn't run out of things to talk about. Take Fountain carries on the discourse with more subtlety than the overtly dramatic Cinerama (whose sound carries heavy overtones of film scorer John Barry), suggesting that this could be his most personal work to date. The emotionally camera-shy Gedge has explained his preference for eavesdropping and infusing found dialogue into lyrics, casting himself as the everyman, falling into whirlwind romances and game playing.
After the eight-minute opener, "Interstate 5," keeping up with the central relationship's fragmented trajectory can be a bit like missing a week of The OC. "Here's the funny part/I wouldn't know where to start," he begins the frisky "Always the Quiet One." Feeling used and finding himself sidetracking monogamy, he asks, "You seemed quite sincere/But will you even recognize my face this time next year?" as the guitars trail the beat like a pedestrian running after a bus. By "I'm From Further North Than You"—is the title about Leeds, or Seattle?—he's still playing 20 (or more) questions: "How did one crazy night turn into six weeks?/How can we be goin' out if neither one of us speaks?" The voluptuous "Mars Sparkles Down" finds the toxic couple seeing other people when she wants to introduce him to her new guy: "How can I just shake his hand," he asks over guitars and strings as claustrophobic as the atmosphere, "When it's been all over your skin?"
In the end, little can keep the lovers together. They're out the door ("Don't Touch That Dial") and on a plane ("Ringway to Seatac"). "Larry's" takes refuge in the vintage guitar line of Santo & Johnny's "Sleep Walk," while the quiet-loud antics of "Queen Anne" are even more plaintive: "I have fallen in a way/I've never done before/You're all I need today/Don't want anything more/As unlikely as it seems/It's as if you've just appeared/Out of one of my dreams." Unapologetically, he adds, "I don't care if that sounds weird."
As Gedge's songwriting concerns the revolving door of romantic love, should it come as a surprise that he's left Seattle? He explains, "Although Take Fountain was written, recorded, and mixed in Seattle, the mastering and artwork were both done in London, so I had to come back to oversee that. There wasn't much point in [my girlfriend and I] keeping our Queen Anne apartment. For the foreseeable future, my home's a hotel room."
The Wedding Present play Neumo's with Crystal Skulls at 9 p.m. Sun., April 17. $14.