The Wedding Present
w/Crystal Skulls
Sun April 17, Neumo's, 9:30 pm, $12-$14.

Overrated English pop bands (a short series): the Smiths, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Duran bloody Duran.

Underrated English pop bands (a series of one): the Wedding Present.

"We were doing a radio interview in Germany at the end of last year, and the DJ asked me how I felt as I approached the 20th anniversary of the Wedding Present. I told him that I thought he'd got it wrong and that I'd been making records for about 16 years. With characteristically Teutonic accuracy, he said, 'No, I am thinking that your first single was in 1985 released,' and I thought, 'Shit. You're right! I've become what I used to ridicule!'"

The Wedding Present singer David Gedge is communicating with me via e-mail. The laconic, romantic Leeds songwriter (who has since relocated to the UK's South Coast) is reacting to a comment I've just thrown his way: "Status Quo--25 years in the business." A much younger Gedge used to routinely put down the denim-clad boogie boys from onstage in the '80s, lampooning rock's careerist tendencies. We believed in the power of self-destruction back then, us with our Xeroxed fanzines and him with his flashing guitars and lovelorn lyrics, forever straining to hit the next top note, strings a frenzy of emotion. Twelve years later, in 1997, the Wedding Present went on hiatus as Gedge decided to concentrate on the more filmic, keyboard-drenched Cinerama project--a duo with his then-girlfriend, Sally Murrell.

Guess what? Gedge couldn't relinquish the guitars, or his tag as Mr. Breakup King. He and Murrell split sometime around the release of Cinerama's third album, 2002's Torino, and the guitarist moved to Seattle and started writing darker, even more introspective songs. The Wedding Present have returned, first with a single, the spacious "Interstate 5." Now, with an album: the breathtakingly sorrowful Take Fountain, recorded in Seattle with harassed producer Steve Fisk.

"We had this joke in the studio where we'd say, 'Sorry, Steve… this one's got B-side written all over it!' when it was a track that we'd just spent two days working on," Gedge laughs. "That upset him a bit. I don't think he quite understood my typical Northern English reserve. If you get him on one of his pet subjects, though--the history of the keyboard, or the Shaggs--he can talk all night."

Take Fountain may've been released under the Wedding Present aegis, but don't expect a Pixies-style reformation. The album is very different from previous outings: more emotional, murky, despairing in places. The Wedding Present of old were excruciatingly wrenching, but that often seemed ego driven. This is heart wrenching. Mature, even….

"I hate the word 'mature' in relation to pop music, but you've got a point," Gedge reluctantly agrees. "This is certainly not a teenage-angst record. You acquire a different perspective on these things as you grow older. Take Fountain is the most personal album I've ever made. I was actually going through a breakup and meeting someone new as it was being written."

There are a lot of "The more I have you, the more I want you" lyrics and unanswered questions left lingering in the night breeze; strings so sweet they cause your heart to flutter; horns and glockenspiels and layered harmonies. Although nothing can touch the youthful vigor of a Wedding song like "My Favourite Dress," this is possibly their finest record since… God knows when. That's the thing about David Gedge and his music: he's so polite, so down-to-earth, that he's easy to overlook… that is, until you start listening to him.

"I write about all aspects of relationships," he says, "lust, hatred, nostalgia, guilt, grief, ecstasy… the list is endless and I'm not particularly gender specific. But I guess I'm always going to be known as Mr. Breakup Songwriter, aren't I? I don't know if it's because I'm particularly good at doing those songs, or because people remember those ones better."

So what can Seattle expect from the Wedding Present live? The usual mixture of old and new? Any cover versions? "Fire-eating go-go dancers?" Gedge jokes. "I don't know… we haven't quite settled on the stage show. But we don't want this to be a greatest-hits tour. It's business as usual. So, some old, some new… some Cinerama songs, even. With no encores, of course."

Of course.