The Wedding Present’s latest album, “El Rey,” is one of the best records I’ve heard over the last few years and has also been widely lauded in the British music media. Criminally, it has not been picked up for distribution in Japan. But you’ll be able to hear the new songs at the band’s upcoming Japan shows (their first here since 1993), and, if you’re smart, you’ll get on the Net now and buy it.
The eighth studio album from this legendary band — who took over the mantle of Britain’s top indie group after the demise of The Smiths — is an astounding return to top form. Yes, forget 1987′s hallowed debut “George Best” — “El Rey” is the Fernando Torres of recently released albums, boasting a treasure chest of sterling songwriting skills that silences the opposition.
So, anyway, the phone is ringing. I’m calling up singer/songwriter David Gedge.
Hello David. Where are you and what have you been up to this morning?
I came to London yesterday to go to the Japanese Embassy to get a visa and to work on a collaboration with the BBC Big Band. I was approached by the Fuse Festival in Leeds, as they commission symphony collaborations. The Big Band will do 10 Wedding Present songs. I admit it sounds odd. I don’t know anything about big bands, apart from, say, Glenn Miller. I’m not sure if people will like it, but it’s a challenge.
There’s so much grim news about, so let’s start on a happy note. What’s the happiest thing that has happened to you this year?
Hmm . . . I know it sounds corny, but it’s to get the invitation to play in Japan. This year was meant to be quiet for the band after recording “El Rey” last year and touring. But now the BBC thing and Japan. I’m really excited.
I thought it might involve romance, as you’re a bit of a romantic, aren’t you?
I’m kind of interested in romance. I write about the way people talk to each other, how and why they say things. I’m not particularly romantic myself.
“El Rey” is packed with love songs. Aren’t they all based on personal experiences?
“It depends on the song. Some are totally autobiographical, embarrassing, as they’re like my diary. It might sound pretentious, but in others, I think of a story and me acting a part of how I would react in such a situation. So in that sense, there’s a percentage of me in every song.
I shed a tear when I first listened to “Don’t Take Me Home Until I’m Drunk.” “I love you,” the boy says in the song. “I like you,” the girl replies. And the next day she says she’s got another man. It’s happened to me. Do you drink much these days?
Maybe some wine, but I like to control my drinking if I can. You support Manchester United football team, unfortunately. Who’s your favorite current player?
I’ve got soft spots for Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Do you enjoy watching them more than you enjoyed watching George Best?
Well (long pause) . . . not really. Best was a marvel to watch, a joy, and that is one thing about United. Over the years there’s been so many iconic figures, such as Bobby Charlton and Eric Cantona.
When I talk to my mates about The Wedding Present, they always say that “George Best” is their favorite album. Do people say that to you, and does it get on your nerves?
It only gets on my nerves because I think that is the worst album I’ve ever made. I don’t think it’s stood the test of time like other albums I’ve done. You become more experienced in song arranging and using the studio. When we did “George Best,” we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. “Bizarro” (The Wedding Present’s second album in 1989) is similar to “Best,” but much better. It sounds like a band trying to achieve something but failing. It sounds like it could fall apart at any time.
That sounds a bit like the real George Best.
You could say that. And with which album are you most satisfied?
“El Rey” is the best one. I know bands always say the last one is the best, but “El Rey” is exactly where I want to be at this time. I think “Boo Boo” (a slender, moody madrigal and the penultimate song on the album) is the best song I’ve ever written.
When you started The Wedding Present back in 1985, which contemporary bands bands did you like best?
Maybe The Membranes from Blackpool. Later on, My Bloody Valentine. Then The Pixies. That’s what brought us to (Steve) Albini (who engineered “El Rey”) in a way. When I bought (Pixies’) “Surfer Rosa,” I thought it was fantastic.
You live between Brighton (on England’s south coast) and Hollywood. What do you like best about each place?
I am from Leeds in the North of England, so they will probably hate me for saying this, but Brighton is probably my favorite city in Britain. It’s nice to be near to France, near to London. And the culture, the music and arty stuff there. And it’s got a great vibe, with quirky little shops. London wears people out — noisy, dirty, unfriendly. Brighton is like the best bits of London without the worst bits.
I have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood. It’s like a big, stupid cartoon. In the city, everything is ridiculous. It’s surreal when you walk down the street and see the guy from “The X-Files.”
You recently covered the Take That song “Back For Good,” which is included as an extra track on my preview copy of “El Rey.” Will you be moving in a boy-band direction?
(Cracks up laughing.) Maybe a girl-band direction. The Sugababes next! I love doing cover versions, and you get the most interesting results when you choose something not in your genre.
I thought “Back For Good” was a really great song, except for the embarrassing lyrics. But we’ve turned it on its head. Take That fans will probably hate it, but at least it will make a bit more money for (Take That songwriter) Gary Barlow.
Have you been to Japan before?
The Wedding Present had a really great time there in 1993. I thought we would then be back every year after that, but nobody asked us until now!
The most overriding memory is the way we got treated. We were not a massive band, but the fans made us feel like Michael Jackson. There were fans filming us, following us to the hotel, waiting in the lobby in the morning. It was bizarre and quite remarkable. I’ve never seen it before or since. In England, people might come up and say, “I think you were the best band tonight, but I didn’t like your last album so much,” but in Japan they come up with an A4 page of questions — detailed questions, and others like, “What is your favorite meal?”
What is your favorite Japanese meal?
Let’s go back to my first question, which you didn’t fully answer. What have you been up to this morning?
I’ve been eating Granola.
I’m glad I asked you that. It’s the kind of thing your Japanese fans really need to know.
The Wedding Present play March 10 at Osaka Sunsui (8 p.m.;  6243-3641); March 11 at Nagoya Tokuzo (7:30 p.m.;  733-3709); March 12 and 13 at Shibuya O-Nest, Tokyo (8:30 p.m.;  3462-4420); and March 14 at Nishi-Azabu SuperDeluxe, Tokyo, with special guests Shonen Knife (8 p.m.;  5412-0515). Tickets are ¥4,000 in advance; ¥4,500 on the door with one drink.