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The Wedding Present
Take Fountain

Like many a fan of veteran English guitar band the Wedding Present, I met singer/songwriter/guitarist David Gedge's decision to put the band name on hiatus nearly a decade ago with something of a raised eyebrow. The Weddoes had long since become synonymous with "David Gedge and whoever else he's playing with this month" in the face of many a lineup change (and an ongoing evolution in the band's style); something like a dozen albums were released under the Wedding Present name. So the decision to start anew with Cinerama, a duo with then-girlfriend Sally Murrell, was a bold one.

Based on Cinerama's debut album, a far more polished, lush and gentle affair than anything he'd done before, the change made a certain amount of sense, though Murrell's presence was far more prominent on the first few Cinerama CD covers than on the songs themselves. By the second (and best) Cinerama album, Disco Volante, Gedge had brought back the Weddoes' skuzzy guitar sound while keenly blending in the cinematic effects (which he refers to as "orchestrations," both synthesized and organic, which were added over the initial Steve Albini-recorded guitar/bass/drum tracks). After the 2002 release of Torino and a breakup, Murrell stopped touring with Cinerama, and Gedge's output alternated between ambitious, sophisticated pop and straightforward, embellishment-free rock songs.

Foreshadowing the rebirth of the Wedding Present, the man who had once shrugged off audience requests for old Weddoes favorites began playing them live once more. So it came as only the mildest type of surprise when Gedge changed course and decided that rather than releasing a fourth proper Cinerama album, he would recast the material he was working on in 2004 as Take Fountain, the first album of all-new Wedding Present material since 1996.

Hypothetically, a non-English speaker would be hard pressed to identify any differences between Take Fountain and latter-day Cinerama, as both feature the same singer, the same cast of backing musicians (Gedge is joined by Cinerama alums Simon Cleave on guitar, Terry De Castro on bass and backing vocals, and drummer Kari Paavola) and the same songwriting style. The biggest difference is lyrical, in that where Cinerama Gedge was sex-obsessed and more often than not a happy soul, Weddoes Gedge is sex-obsessed and rather decidedly unhappy.

The menacing throb of album opener and first single "Interstate 5" suggest that this 21st Century version of the band is headed into unexplored new territory, the dark cast of the guitars and Gedge's nasal voice relaying a tale of a man loved and left. But then come the two minutes of additional music edited out of the single version of the song, an acoustic guitar-, bongo-, horn- and string-laden passage that reprises the song's melody as if to say "See, this band is about much more than guitars and drums nowadays." This bridges surprisingly well into the jaunty, rather restrained bounce of "Always the Quiet One," which steadily builds in intensity without quite exploding the way one might hope.

The glorious Gedge noise is to be found on one of the album's highlights, the excellent "Don't Touch That Dial (Pacific Northwest Version)"; the track amplifies a previously released Cinerama single to turn it into a roaring, string-drenched beast in which the guitars fight violas and violins to a delightfully cacophonous standstill, weakened somewhat by a mercifully short bit of piano meandering that closes the song out. Similarly rollicking is the bitter, bass-heavy "It's for You," on which Gedge wonders when his ex will grow tired of her new love and come back to him. The morose "Mars Sparkles Down on Me" finds Gedge having a hard time of things if the bit in which he wonders how he can shake the hand of another man who has been with his former love is to be believed.

But all too often, this new material fails to leave much of an impression. The near-a cappella, sorrow-drowning "Larry's" devolves into something approaching a bar sing-along as the full band kicks in over the tune's latter half, rather ironic considering the clever cover of the theme song from the tavern-based sitcom "Cheers" that the Weddoes did many years ago. The wordy "I'm From Further North Than You" offers some nice guitar fills but can't quite achieve escape velocity and take off into the stratosphere. Conversely, "Perfect Blue" slowly drifts off into the ether on a bed of strings and French horn, scarcely anchored by the distant echoes of the guitars.

With Take Fountain, David Gedge resurrects his classic Wedding Present brand but fails to live up to it. It's somewhat reminiscent of the situation that came about 20 years ago when the Coca-Cola Company changed its flagship beverage's formulation, only to be met with protests that led to the reintroduction of the old flavor as Coca-Cola Classic and the subsequent renaming of the alternate product under the New Coke/Coke II banner. Sad to say, the flat pop Gedge has bestowed upon us this time around is more worthy of being called the Wedding Present II. Here's hoping some additional distance from his breakup with Murrell will help put the fizz back into the man's muse.

by Steve Gozdecki

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