When front man Ian Webber announces from the stage in an unmistakably English accent, "We're the Tender Idols from Atlanta," uninitiated audience members often do a double take.

When front man Ian Webber announces from the stage in an unmistakably English accent, "We're the Tender Idols from Atlanta," uninitiated audience members often do a double take.

And when the five-piece band begins to play, it indeed sounds like little else the Georgia capital has produced: lush, seductive yet hard-edged guitar rock that calls to mind not only Britpop purveyors like Blur, Oasis, and Coldplay but such classic-rock forebears as Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and even Led Zeppelin.

But the Tender Idols, whose E-magine Entertainment debut, "Distressor," went to retail April 10, do in fact hail from Atlanta -- even though Webber's a native of Devon, England. He fetched up in Atlanta in 1992 almost by accident.

"I came here on holiday and saw so many cool, little clubs with original music," Webber says. "I'd been in bands in London before and wanted to get back into that whole thing. I thought, 'What would happen if I just stayed here?'" Webber dislikes hot weather, but he arrived in December, "and it doesn't get really warm until March. By the time it was 95°, I was auditioning for bands, so it didn't worry me."

Webber first hooked up with Idols guitarist Danny Howes -- a fellow English music enthusiast -- through an ad in Atlanta alternative weekly Creative Loafing; drummer Guy Strauss joined later. The group's eponymous debut album, consisting of what Webber characterizes as "traditional three-minute pop songs," was released on the indie Symbiotic imprint in 1996.

By the time the band's follow-up, "Step on Over," came out in late '98, guitarist/bassist David Cobb had joined the band, and Webber says that was "when it turned a little more bluesy and heavier." It got even more so when bassist Joe Jones, who had done stints with local thrash-metal, punk, prog-rock, and new-wave bands, came on board in fall 1999.

That same year, the Tender Idols signed with E-magine (distributed by Alternative Distribution Alliance). Band members say the label seemed the best fit, though they had been courted by the majors, too. But, Webber says, "a lot of the people we talked to were trying to fit us in a formula, like a Matchbox Twenty, Sugar Ray, or Third Eye Blind: 'Maybe you could write some songs in this vein.' " But, he adds, E-magine "let us do the album we really wanted to do."

Plus, Howes says, E-magine chiefs Christoph Rcker and Christian Jˆrg -- both former BMG executives -- "market bands in ways that are less traditional. With the onslaught of Napster and the whole computer generation, you have to think a little more out of the box."

JÖrg himself says E-magine is employing "viral marketing" tactics (such as street teams) keyed by the Internet, "to get the word out about 'Distressor' and build the fan base. We don't want to spend a ton of marketing money, work the project for two months, and drop it. We sign artists that have a future."

Co-manager Michael Weeman says he was impressed by E-magine's having reissued "Step on Over" last year. "The Tender Idols are a long-term project for them, irrespective of what radio does," he says. "If the climate's right, fantastic -- if not, they have a home where they can develop."

E-magine also had the making of "Distressor" captured on video, so two- to three-minute vignettes from the footage will be streamed on the band and label Web sites.

Noting that the Tender Idols' first two indie albums did well, Jim Richter, manager of Atlanta's HMV outlet, expects "Distressor" to be "huge" in Atlanta. Bill Adcock, owner of local retailer Corner Compact Disc, concurs. Atlanta modern rock station 99X (WNNX) played "Getaway" from "Step on Over," and there are "at least five songs on 'Distressor' that could work as singles," says PD Leslie Fram, who joins with Richter and Adcock in her enthusiasm for the local boys. "We're all fans.