Sprouts for Christmas
IN THIS PHOTO: Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon (circa 2013)/PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Westenberg
The Return of the Peerless Paddy McAloon
THIS new announcement and news from Paddy McAloon...
IN THIS PHOTO: Paddy McAloon captured in 1985/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Putland
is not promising fresh material in the coming days and weeks but it does seem, by September of next year, there will be more music from the Prefab Sprout lead. Prefab Sprout is essentially McAloon himself and the previous album, Crimson/Red, was made with producer Calum Malcolm. That record is a terrific thing and was made after McAloon forgot he had to get an album out. He was phoned one day to say he was overdue and, in a panic, retreated to his archives and selected some songs that he could do fairly quickly. If the process seems rushed then you cannot say the execution is sloppy and lacks quality. It is one of the best albums from the Prefab Sprout catalogue and has all the usual and reliable threads we expect from McAloon. The Durham-born songwriter did a couple of interviews around the release of Crimson/Red and it was nice to hear him talk so openly about the record and his absence. Let’s Change the World with Music was released in 2009 so there was a little bit of a gap. McAloon, when interviewed, was in great spirits and talked about the making of Crimson/Red and the inspiration behind some of the songs. He stated, when speaking with Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie on BBC Radio 6 Music that he likes character songs and, on the album, you get some vivid stories and so much colour.
It is a fantastically written and realised record that impressed critics and stood out as one of 2013’s very best. Uncut, in this review, talked about the traits and magic elements of Crimson/Red:
“But the final triumph of Crimson/Red doesn’t lie in the usual smart artifice. It lies in the fact that it is ridiculously catchy. McAloon assembled these songs from the vaults – “The Old Magician” is 16-years-old, “List Of Impossible Things” has been tinkered with for a decade – on a deadline, and decided to forgo his normal tendency to take a hookline and sink it beneath modal twists and muso turns, and just let the choruses breathe. All of the songs mentioned plus the harmonica-led, yacht-rock note-to-self of the endlessly repeating “Billy” are once-heard, forever-whistled earworms, destined to get you humming annoyingly at the checkout in Tescos.
The result is an album that cuts through much of the cerebral work that being a Prefab Sprout fan generally entails, in favour of mainlining directly to the heart. It’s a genius pop album by a genius pop singer-songwriter. Or: A universally accessible joy from a particularly clever bastard”.
It is hard to deny the brilliance of the album and, as Paddy McAloon interviews are rare, it was good to hear the man speaking and revealing what he has been up to. One of the reasons why he is not touring and recording more is because of hearing and sight issues. He has damaged hearing and it means, if he were to tour, it would be him strumming a guitar – a nervous experience and not one he is willing to explore.
There are constraints when he records and working as he did back in the 1980s is not going to be possible. I hoped McAloon would announce a new Prefab Sprout record and, whilst we do not have a lot of detail, he did speak with Today reporter Nicola Stanbridge about his plans. It is great that he is working away and, when it comes to sprouts at Christmas; it is nice to have a bit of Prefab on the plate! It is a present and tantalising revelation from McAloon and, as he says in the interview, he hopes to have something out in September – if his hearing holds and he can put it all down on tape. I have often and long regarded Paddy McAloon as one of the greatest songwriters the world has seen. Ever since Prefab Sprout’s debut, Swoon, in 1984; the man has been able to pen songs like nobody else. Witty, intelligent and utterly absorbing; you are drawn into his world and struck by his striking pen and brilliant use of language. Maybe we all know the band from The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll (from 1988’s From Langley Park to Memphis) but many critics felt it was the band at their more commercial and less potent. That songs, especially, holds weight and significance to me as it is one of my earliest memories. I was five when the song came out and, as it was played a lot on radio at the time, it was hard to miss it.
I was at a theme park with my family – it was a warm day and there was a sort of beach there – some sand and chairs around swimming pools to simulate a beach – and the song was playing on a tannoy as we were coming in (and was being played as we walked around). I love the chorus and catchiness – jumping frogs and hotdogs... – and it remains one of the band’s best-loved numbers. To be honest, it is hard to define Prefab Sprout and get to the roots of Paddy McAloon. He can write songs of heartache and longing like nobody else but come up with these strange and wonderful character studies. Cleopatra is the new song McAloon is working on and currently doing the vocals for. As he said in the current interview; he has been interrupted by various things – his hearing went badly wrong and he was working with Spike Lee – and it seems he is in a place where he can focus on the record. The last ‘song’ we hear from McAloon was released online back in March last year. Entitled America, it seems to be this calling for clarity and stability in a beautiful nation. Rather than attack President Trump and get angered; the vocals are warm yet carry urgency. It was an unexpected delivery from McAloon and I wonder whether the song will feature on the upcoming Prefab Sprout record. In a time of turmoil and national crisis; it is nice to hear from Paddy McAloon and I am already excited by the prospect of some delicious Prefab Sprout. Whilst we wait for a new studio album from Prefab Sprout – one assumes it will be another solo effort without the original band members – I have collated the five essential Prefab Sprout albums that you need to get involved with. Whether you are a diehard fan or a new convert; have a look at these golden Prefab Sprout record and...
IN THIS PHOTO: Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon and Wendy Smith (date unknown)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
MAKE sure they are in your collection.
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
Release Date: June 1985
Producer: Thomas Dolby
“On an episode of the BBC Radio 1 programme Roundtable, musician and producer Thomas Dolby, a panelist on the programme, spoke favourably of Prefab Sprout's "Don't Sing", a track from their 1984 Swoon. The band subsequently contacted Dolby, who met with frontman and primary lyricist McAloon in the latter's County Durham home. McAloon presented Dolby with a number of songs he had written, "probably 40 or 50" by Dolby's estimate, some written as far back as 10–12 years prior. Dolby then picked his favourites and asked McAloon to make demo recordings of them; these recordings served as the basis for Dolby's initial process of planning the album's recording.
In the autumn of 1984, Dolby and Prefab Sprout began working on the album's songs in rehearsals at Nomis Studios in West London; after these sessions had commenced, they moved to Marcus Studios for proper recording. The sessions were mutually amicable, with the band being respectful of Dolby's edge over them in recording and musical experience, and Dolby himself keeping into account the band's wishes, knowing that McAloon "wouldn't want to be diluted" by Dolby's additions to the album. Subsequent mixing was carried out at Farmyard Studios in Buckinghamshire.
The bulk of Steve McQueen's sound is dominated by Dolby's lush, jazz-tinged production. McAloon's songs touch on a number of themes, including love, infidelity, regret and heartbreak, and are lyrically "literate and humorous without being condescending in the slightest" - Wikipedia
“I think he needn't be so bashful; one of the defining qualities of the record is its pop ambition, its willingness to engage with its times, precisely by not being a sullen singer-songwriter would-be timeless classic. Imagine if Sinatra had decided that Nelson Riddle's arrangements tied his albums to closely to the early 50s. According to this additional disc, Steve McQueen might have been some perfectly prim and pleasant Go-Betweeny acoustic curio, rather than how it ended up: the kind of record you imagine Elvis Costello might have made had he been signed to ZTT and been ensconced in a studio with Trevor Horn” – Pitchfork
Standout Tracks: Faron Young/Bonny/Appetite
The Ultimate Cut: When Love Breaks Down
From Langley Park to Memphis
Release Date: 14th March, 1988
Producers: Thomas Dolby/Jon Kelly/Paddy McAloon/Andy Richards
“From Langley Park to Memphis is the third studio album by English pop band Prefab Sprout. It was released by Kitchenware Recordson 14 March 1988. It peaked at number 5 on the UK Albums Chart, the highest position for any studio album released by the band.The album featured guest appearances from Stevie Wonder and Pete Townshend. Five singles were released to promote the album: in order of release, "Cars and Girls", "The King of Rock 'n' Roll", "Hey Manhattan!", "Nightingales" and "The Golden Calf". "I Remember That" was later released as a single in 1993 to promote the greatest hits album A Life of Surprises: The Best of Prefab Sprout.”- Wikipedia
“As suggested by the title, From Langley Park to Memphis is Prefab Sprout's spiritual journey into the heart of American culture; obsessed with rock 'n' roll ("The King of Rock 'n' Roll") and Bruce Springsteen ("Cars and Girls"), fascinated with gospel music ("Venus of the Soup Kitchen") and locked in a love/hate relationship with New York City ("Hey! Manhattan"), Paddy McAloon turns an iconoclastic eye to the other side of the Atlantic in order to make some sense of it all. An airy, lounge-pop feel permeates the record, which also sports cameos from the likes of Stevie Wonder and Pete Townshend. Still, while ambitious in both concept and execution, From Langley Park to Memphis pales in comparison to its masterful predecessor Two Wheels Good -- a shortcoming acknowledged by Prefab Sprout themselves with the title of their next album, Jordan: The Comeback” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Cars and Girls/Hey Manhattan!/The Golden Call
The Ultimate Cut: The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Jordan: The Comeback
Release Date: 7th September, 1990
Producer: Thomas Dolby
“Jordan: The Comeback is the fifth studio album by English pop band Prefab Sprout. It was released by Kitchenware Records on 7 September 1990. It peaked at No. 7 on the UK Albums Chart. "Looking for Atlantis" and "We Let the Stars Go" were released as singles, peaking at No. 51 and No. 50, respectively, on the UK Singles Chart. Additionally, Jordan: The EP peaked at No. 35 on the UK Singles Chart”- Wikipedia
“In fact Jordan... consolidates the band’s newfound commercial clout with McAloon’s tendency to fit at least three songs into every one. Confirmed as a songwriter of considerable genius, he now explored genres aplenty: "One Of The Broken" (sung from the vantage point of God – never let it be said that Paddy lacked ambition) is a country song while "Carnival 2000" toys with samba. Dolby returned to the desk, supplying the synth and string, reverb-drenched fairy dust that McAloon’s songs of religion, loss and love demanded.
At times it comes uncomfortably close to cloying - especially on "We Let The Stars Go" or "All The World Loves Lovers" – or too clever for its own good ("Michael" – subject: Lucifer longs to return to paradise) yet is always rescued by the heart-tugging meodies or scintillating arrangements that never hang around long enough for boredom or familiarity to set in. The 'Jesse James' numbers (equating the Western outlaw to a reclusive Elvis, holed up in Vegas) are especially fine with their recurring themes.
Prefab Sprout longed to make pop music, but were always far too intelligent and inventive to do anything so straightforward. Like George Gershwin transported into Brian Wilson’s sandbox, Jordan... is equal parts passionate, philosophical and preposterous. Nothing else sounds like it” – BBC
Standout Tracks: Wild Horses/We Let the Stars Go/The Wedding March
The Ultimate Cut: Looking for Atlantis
I Trawl the Megahertz (Paddy McAloon Solo)
Release Date: 27th May, 2003
Label: Liberty Records
Producers: Paddy McAloon/Calum Malcolm
“The largely instrumental album marks a notable stylistic change from previous Prefab Sprout work, featuring classical passages and orchestration reminiscent of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, McAloon's two favourite composers. Writing much of the music on his computer, McAloon was given help by co-producer Calum Malcolm and composer David McGuinness in translating his original versions into the final recordings, with live orchestration provided by Mr McFall's Chamber. McAloon's radio-sourced material was then integrated with the songs, with spoken word vocals from Yvonne Connors on the title track, TV and radio dialogue samples on "I'm 49" and McAloon's own singing on "Sleeping Rough"
In 1999, Paddy McAloon, front man of British pop band Prefab Sprout, suffered detachment from both retinas in his eyes in quick succession, possibly due to congenital factors, which needed extensive surgery and left him nearly blind for some time. As such, he was left housebound, and rendered unable to write songs in his usual fashion, namely "hunched over a keyboard," and he found it particularly frustrating as he found himself subject "to itchy, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if [he] cannot work." As a result of this, and being unable to read, McAloon passed the time by listening to, and recording, various television and radio programs, especially chat shows, phone-in radio shows, citizens band conversations and "military encryptions – you name it, I was eavesdropping on it." Much of his listening was to late night radio shows. One journalist pointed out his listening to particularly short wave radio transmissions.
McAloon found solace in the various radio shows and documentaries he listened to, and inspired by what he heard, used them as the source for a new solo album, I Trawl the Megahertz. He began taping the programs he listened to ("chat shows and things like that, people phoning in with their complaints to various DJs.") To his own admission, he found 90% of what he recorded "boring," but he began to "mentally edit" some of the things he heard: "Odd words from documentaries would cross-pollinate with melancholy confidences aired on late night phone-ins; phrases that originated in different time zones on different frequencies would team up to make new and oddly affecting sentences. And I would change details to protect the innocent (or guilty), to streamline the story that I could hear emerging, and to make it all more...musical, I suppose" - Wikipedia
“The most significant song is the opener; 22 minutes in length, it's nearly elegiac in it its mournful tones played out by a swaying string arrangement and a weeping trumpet. Throughout its duration, Yvonne Connors speaks matter-of-factly -- yet dramatically enough to be poignant -- as she rifles through fragments of her memory, the most disarming of which reads like this: "I said, 'Your daddy loves you very much; he just doesn't want to live with us anymore.'" Of the eight remaining songs, McAloon's voice is present on just one, which doesn't come along until near the end. This song, the particularly autumnal "Sleeping Rough," is almost as emblematic of the album as the opener, expressing a somewhat sorrowful but content coming to grips with the passage of time ("I'll grow a long and silver beard and let it reach my knees"). The album was conceived during and in the wake of McAloon's bout with an illness that temporarily took away his eyesight, but it's plain to hear that his vision remains” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Esprit de Corps/Fall from Grace/Sleeping Rough
The Ultimate Cut: I Trawl the Megahertz
Release Date: 7th October, 2013
Producers: Paddy McAloon/Calum Malcolm
“Crimson/Red is the tenth studio album by the English pop group Prefab Sprout. It was released in the United Kingdom by Icebreaker Records/Kitchenware Records on 7 October 2013. The album title is a reference to artist Mark Rothko” - Wikipedia
“The subjects, too, are rich and strange. The Best Jewel Thief In The World is a creation only McAloon could summon, a professional cracksman at the top of his game, scorning the little folk ("what do any of those assholes know?”). There’s the "urbane” Mephistopheles of Devil Came A Calling who offers Paddy – OK, “Patrick” – “a mansion on Fellatio Drive” before returning, after 50 years of gravy, to claim his due. Bob Dylan and Jimmy Webb, or representations thereof, pop by, as if lending moral support to the songwriter at bay.
Music itself is now McAloon’s hot topic, a holdover from Let’s Change The World With Music, the house-informed album McAloon made in 1993 but only relinquished for release in 2009. And though music about music can smack tediously of self-justification, the payoff here is Billy, a delirious fable wherein music’s intercessionary magic is embodied by a discarded trumpet, stumbled across in the snow.
In the ’80s, McAloon might have scorned such a sentimental metaphor, but he’s not that smart aleck any more, not with life’s solaces now at such a premium. The gifted kid’s still gifted. He just grew up, is all” – Mojo
Standout Tracks: The Best Jewel Thief in the World/Devil Came a Calling/The Old Magician
The Ultimate Cut: Billy