Prefab Sprout


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1  (1977-82)

- Martin McAloon -- bass

- Paddy McAloon -- vocals, guitar, keyboards, mandolin,

  synthesizers

- Michael Salmon -- drums, percussion

 

  line up 2  (1982-83)

- Martin McAloon -- bass

- Paddy McAloon -- vocals, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, synthesizers

- Michael Salmon -- drums, percussion

NEW - Wendy Smith -- vocals

 

  line up 3  (1983-84)

NEW - Graham Lant -- drums, percussion (replaced 

  Michael Salmon)

- Martin McAloon -- bass

- Paddy McAloon -- vocals, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, synthesizers

- Wendy Smith -- vocals

 

  line up 4  (1984)

NEW - Steve Dodler -- drums, percussion (replaced  Graham Lant)

- Martin McAloon -- bass

- Paddy McAloon -- vocals, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, synthesizers

- Wendy Smith -- vocals

 

  line up 4  (1984-92)

NEW - Neil Conti -- drums, percussion (replaced Steve Dodler)

- Martin McAloon -- bass

- Paddy McAloon -- vocals, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, synthesizers

- Wendy Smith -- vocals

 

 

 

  • Luís Jardim – percussion
  • Judd Lander – harmonica (on "Looking for Atlantis")
  • Jenny Agutter – "I Want to Have You" vocals (on "Wild Horses")
  • The Phantom Horns – horns (on "Carnival 2000")

 

  line up (1997)

- Martin McAloon -- bass

- Paddy McAloon -- vocals, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, synthesizers

- Paul Smith -- drums, percussion

- Wendy Smith -- vocals

 

- David Brewis -- guitar, mandolin

- Alan Clark -- groan

- Jim Hornsby -- mandolin, guitar

- Calum Malcolm -- keyboards

- Martin McAloon -- bass

- Paddy McAloon -- vocals, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, synthesizers

- Paul Smith -- drums, percussion

- Tommy Smith -- sax 

- Wendy Smith -- vocals

- Frazer Spiers -- harmonica

- Martin Taylor -- guitar

 

 

 

- Level 42 (Neil Conti)

- Paddy McAloon (solo efforts)

- Swimmer Leon (Michael Salmon)

 

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Swoon

Company: Epic/Kitchenware

Catalog:  BFE 39872
Year:
 1984

Country/State: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: stickers on cover

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 40004

Price: $25.00

 

There is a lot of Prefab Sprout biographical material on the web so I'm not going to try to repackage most of it.

 

 Having started playing live back in 1979, it only took brothers Paddy and Martin McAloon three years to record their debut 45.  Produced by Terry Gavaghan and backed by drummer Michael Salmon, the debut was released on their own Candle Records label:

 

 

With a title that was apparently an homage to a-girlfriend studying in France (take the first letter of each word and you'll figure out what city she was living in), the tune reflected an okay folk-rock feel and introduced everyone to McAloon's unique way with lyrics..

 

- 1982's 'Lions In My Garden: Exit Someone' b/w 'Radio Love' (Candle catalog number SRTS 82 CUS 1376)

 

 

 

The band's initial breakthrough came when Keith Armstrong heard  their single being played at a local record store.  He tracked the band down signing them in late 1983 to the Kitchenware label he operated with Paul Ludford.

Kitchenware first reissued the band's self-financed debut single in 7" and 12" formats:

  7" format

- 1984's 'Lions In My Garden: (Exit Someone)' b/w 'Radio Love' (Kitchenware catalog number SK 4)

 

  12" format

- 1984's 'Lions In My Garden: (Exit Someone)' and 'Radio Love' b/w  'The Devil Has All the Best Tunes' and 'Walk On' (Kitchenware catalog number SK 8)

 

Kitchenware then released the 1984 single:

 

 

'The Devil Has All the Best Tunes' b/w 'Walk On' (Kitchenware catalog number SK 7)

 

To my ear it was notable for the lack of much a melody.

 

 

 

 

 

First an acknowledgement - I'm one of those fans who got into the Prefab Sprout discography ass backwards.  Instead of starting with the debut, it was actually one of the last LPs I heard.  That's going to have an impact on my view of this album.  

 

Five years after they'd started playing live, the McAloon brothers along with backing vocalist Wendy Smith and sessions drummer Graham Lant, recorded their debut LP.  Produced by The Kane Gang multi-instrumentalist David Brewis, "Swoon" (supposedly standing for "songs written out of necessity"), reflected material Paddy McAloon had written over the past seven years.  The album was reportedly recorded quickly, with the basic tracks completed in a single day, for a total cost of less than $7,000.

 

Responsible for all eleven tracks, like the entire Prefab catalog, the debut aptly showcased Paddy McAloon's awesome voice, his love for classic George Gershwin-meets-Brian Wilson/Burt Bacharach styled sophisticate pop and his hyper-literate lyrics.  Prefab Sprout was never going to be a band for folks into AC/DC-styled subtleties.  I actually once saw a review of the album where the person said they liked the album, but felt like they'd been given a reading assignment where they had to turn in a summary of the book the next morning.  Some of these tunes are pretty dense packed.  At the same time their were some noticeable differences comparing the debut to their later catalog.  Songs like 'Cue Fanfare' (who writes a song about chess players ?), 'Here on the Eerie' and the jazzy 'Cruel' were certainly catchy, but there was a certain roughness to the sound (perhaps attributable to the fact the album was recorded quickly and without a lot of resources).  And while you were never going to lump them with the new wave crowd, songs like the UK single 'Don't Sing' and 'I Never Play Basketball Now' seemed to reflect a little of Andrew Partridge and early XTC's spiky energy.  Elsewhere, McAloon and company seemed to have simply run out of time to develop the strong melodies so common on later albums - that's particularly true on side two where my ears didn't perk up for a single tune.

 

In a disagreement over compensation, drummer Lant quit shortly after the album was released.  He was briefly replaced by Steve Dodler.  Dodler was around long enough to appear in a promotional video for 'Don't Sing' and supported the band during a series of tours in advance of and after the album was released.  Several of the dates found them opening for Elvis Costello who became a major advocate for the group.  Ironically, McAloon had previously expressed a dislike for Costello's music.  Dodler subsequently quit over musical direction and was replaced by Neil Conti.  

 

"Swoon" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Don't Sing   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:53  rating: **** stars

Paddy McAloon's voice makes it clear this a Prefab Sprout offering, but if you came to this one late in the discography, it's a little jarring compared to what came later in their career.  Mind you. the song was certainly catchy with the chugging, harmonica propelled melody sounding like XTC having caught a pop virus.  The lyrics reflected a set of McAloon's standard everything-but-the-kitchen sink scope.  Actually, after all these years I still don't have a clue what it's about ...  Supposedly inspired by Graham Green's The Power and the Glory, McAloon was later quoted as saying the song had too many words.  LOL.  May have to check it out of the library someday.   The song was tapped as the album's first single and released in a number of formats::

  7" single:

- 1984's 'Don't Sing' b/w 'Green Isaac II' (Kitchenware catalog number SK-9)  

  12" single:

- 1984's 'Don't Sing' b/w 'He'll Have To Go' and Green Isaac II' (Kitchenware catalog number SK-9)  

Released in the midst of MTV/VH1 mania, of course there was a promotional video.  Interestingly, the video featured drummer Steve Dodler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IpBRMm_QAg 

2.) Cue Fanfare   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:06   rating: **** stars

The secret sauce on the funky 'Cue Fanfare' came in the form of Martin McAloon's jazzy bass line.  Besides, how could you not love a song dedicated to chess - "When Bobby Fischer's playing, he'll take those Russian boys and play them outta town ...'

3.) Green Isaac   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:31   rating: *** stars

The first two minutes of 'Green Isaac' offered up a smooth, almost supper club lounge tune, before blowing up into an out-and-out rocker.  After all these years I don't have a clue what McAloon and company were going on about.  Given the multiple religious references including an apparent nod to Joan of Arc, perhaps a reflection on McAloon's time training to become a priest?  The song and harmonies with Wendy Smith are lovely.

4.) Here on the Eerie   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:00   rating: **** stars

The jittery 'Here Comes on the Eerie' served as a nice showcase for McAloon's guitar chops.  Brother Martin again shined on bass. It was another track that reflected a jittery, XTC--ish energy, or anxiety.  I quite like it though it was apparently intended as a jab against musical acts that inject overt politics into their music !!!

5.) Cruel   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:20   rating: **** stars

On first spin 'Cruel' comes off like something The Free Design might have recorded in a Holiday Inn lounge - a marginally tuneful jazzy number.  But once you got acclimated to what was a surprisingly funky groove, the song's genius revealed itself and the lyrics ("my contribution to urban blues"), could have been turned into some sort of college thesis.  YouTube has a nice live performance of the tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_9Nkecd-2o 

 

(side 2)

1.) Couldn't Bear To Be Special   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:49   rating: *** stars

'Couldn't Bear To Be Special' was a pretty ballad, but it was also quite strange.  The refrain was genuinely irritating.   McAloon once offered up they tune would have been a nice cover for the late Michael Jackson.  The song was tapped as the album's second single:

  7" format

- 1984's 'Couldn't Bear To Be Special' b/w 'Spinning Belinda' (Kitchenware catalog number SK 10)

  12" format

- 1984's 'Couldn't Bear To Be Special' b/w 'Spinning Belinda' and 'Donna Summer' (Kitchenware catalog number SK 10 12)

2.) I Never Play Basketball Now   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:40   rating: *** stars

'I Never Play Basketball Now' was another track where the skitterish opening reminded me a bit of XTC.  Nice sports metaphor wrapped in a really dark lyric about all of us having to pass on.  As a teen McAloon apparently did like to play basketball.

3.) Ghost Town Blues   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:21   rating: *** stars

Powered by Martin's bass, 'Ghost Town Blues' introduced a weird mixture of barrelhouse piano and reggae rhythm.  Another tune that's a mystery to my ears.

4.) Elegance   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:21   rating: ** stars

Fans fawn over 'Elegance' but to my ears it is an also ran effort - pretentious and basically a tuneless jazzy number.  Not sure why McAloon thought it would be a great tune for Luther Vandross.

5.) Technique   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:45   rating: *** stars

Drummer Graham Lant's moment in the spotlight, though it's largely wasted on a song that just seems to bounce all over the place and is another lyrical challenge to my ears.

6.) Green Isaac II   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:38   rating: *** stars

Can't say I found the reprise any more appealing that the original tune ...

 

 

 

 

 


Genre: r

Rating: 2

Title:  From Langley Par To Memphis

Company: epic

Catalog:  D
Year:
 1988

Country/State: S

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1

Price: $15.00

Okay, unlike '60s and '70s music, for the most part '80s bands still haven't reached the point where they're being rediscovered and considered cool by the next generation.  Shame, since Prefab Sprout is one of the acts that deserves rediscovery.

 

 

 

 

 

"From Langley Park To Memphis" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) The King of Rock 'n; Roll   (Paddy McAloon) - 

The song was released as the album's second 45:

2.) Cars and Girls   (Paddy McAloon) - 

Okay, it was apparently written as a dig at what the band saw as Bruce Springsteen's mid-career world view (some things hurt more than cars and girls), but seriously, this may be the best song McAloon ever wrote ...   A melody that was like a perfect summer morning - bright, whispy, and full of promise.  YouTube has a 1988 lip synching performance on Irish Television's Late, Late Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjkNgje_joM   The song was tapped as the album's leadoff single:  

- 1988's 'Cars and Girls' b/w 'Vendetta' (Epic catalog number 34-07922)

3.) I Remember That   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:14   rating: *** stars

Yeah, the chorus was patently sweet, but elsewhere 'I Remember That' found Paddy McAloon and company playing it too adult contemporary-ish for my tastes.  And by the time they'd discovered their soul groove, the song was almost over. Curiously, even though it wasn't originally released as a single, in 1993 it surfaced as a 45 released in conjunction with the band's best of "A Life of Surprises: The Best of Prefab Sprout" package.  Epic also financed a promotion video for the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7VurhK2kos 

4) Enchanted   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:47   rating: **** stars

'Enchanted' was one of those songs that doesn't instantly strike you as being funky, but kicked along by   Paul Wicken's stunning synthesizer bass line, assorted synthesizer bleeps, and some of Paddy's slinkiest vocals, it's a track that's almost impossible to sit still through.  You had to wonder how this one was skipped over as a single.

5.) Nighintgales   (Paddy McAloon) - 5:51   rating: **** stars

Okay, 'Nightingales' is a song I really wanted to dislike, but somehow managed to overcome my initial feelings about it.  Maybe it was the Stevie Wonder harmonica solo ...   The track was released as the 4th single in the UK and Spain.

- 1988's 'Nightingales' (edit) b/w 'Nightingales' (full version) (Kitchenware catalog number SK39)

 

(side 2)

1.) Hey Manhattan!   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:45  rating; ** stars

I've always taken it as a love song to the city (not sure about the JFK references).  I'm not the only person to hear echoes of Steely Dan in the jazzy 'Hey Manhattan!'.  The problem is it's bad Steely Dan - way too orchestrated and MOR-ish.  Even having Pete Townshend on acoustic guitar couldn't save it ...   Here's a link to the promotional video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDDJPbWq22E  The song was released as the third single:

 

  7" format:

- 1988's 'Hey Manhattan!' b/w 'Tornado' (Kitchenware catalog number SK 38)

  12" format:

- 1988's 'Hey Manhattan!' / 'Tornado' b/w 'Hey Manhattan! / 'Donna Summer' (Kitchenware catalog number SKGT 38)

2.) Knock On wood   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:15

3.) The Golden Calf   (Paddy McAloon) - 5:05   rating: **** stars

For folks who didn't think they could rock ...  Is it just me, or did McAllon sound like Jeff Lynn on this one? Another track that was released as a European single.  In the UK it was released as the album's 5th single in both 7" and 12" variants:

- 1989's 'The Golden Calf' b/w 'Venus of the Soup Kitchen' (Kitchenware catalog number SK41)

- 1989's 'The Golden Calf' b/w 'Bonny (live' and 'Venus of the Soup Kitchen' (Kitchenware catalog number SKX41)  And thanks to YouTube there's a promotional video as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SvzhKltoAU 

4.) Nancy (Let Your Hair Down for Me)  (Paddy McAloon) - 4:01   rating: **** stars

Always wondered what it was about, but for some reason the silky msooth 'Nancy Let Your Hair Down for Me' always makes me draw comparisons to Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  Another track that I probably would deny appreciating in public, but stands as a guilty pleasure.  

5.) The Venus of the Soup Kitchen   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:29   rating: *** stars

Another one of McAloon's patented melodies, devoted fans will know the album title was drawn from the lyrics, though after all these years I still don't have a clue what he was crooning about.  The late Andrea Crouch and the Andrea Crouch singers provided the odd Gospel backing.

 

 

EPs never caught on the US market, but were popular in the UK.  "Nightingale" was released as part of a four track UK EP:

"Nightingales" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Nightingales (edit)   (Paddy McAloon) - 

 

(side 2)

1.) Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone)    (Paddy McAloon) - 

2.) The Devil Has All the Best Tunes    (Paddy McAloon) - 

 

 

 

 

 'Cars and Girls', 'The King of Rock 'n. 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 Sproutthemselves with the title of their next album, Jordan: The Comeback.

 

When I was only a toddler, I was one of the many children who had a strange and near-universal fascination with the subject of trains. Much to my extremely young delight, there existed a retired caboose on a lot near the entrance of my grandparents’ then (and still now) subdivision. I’m too old and senile today in my first year of adulthood to remember its purpose, but I would fascinatingly gaze at it every time we passed by in order to make it to grandma and pop pop’s house.

At an age once again undetermined by my current self, there eventually came a time where we passed through the familiar road to find that the caboose had been removed; I remember being livid and upset at the fact that I’d never gotten to see it beyond some auto-protected glances, but like most children, my fascination found something new to latch onto. In the direction of the spot where the caboose had been, a road was being constructed into the thicket of trees that lay beyond. From this road, you could see it wind into the dark forest, but the turn was then far too sharp to see beyond the wood, and I consequently had no idea where it led. 

The allure of the caboose was promptly defeated with this strange, ominous woodland trail. I’d lay in bed and dream about all the possible things it could lead to, and I had a vivid enough imagination to make myself believe that it would bring its traveler to something insidious. Of course, young boys tend to find dangerous and evil dwellings to be exciting, and I thought upon this mysterious road with the utmost of excellence.

∞ ∞ ∞

Today, I found myself reveling in the sound of Prefab Sprout as I made my now-annual walk through my grandparents’ neighborhood. Over the years, my preexisting love for scenic walks alongside the acquired fascination with places to extreme nostalgic locations has tempted me to explore one of the only places I’ve access to left in the world of my ever-deteriorating childhood. As somebody who had always been brought to their home through mutual transportation, I had no acquirement of wanderlust for this seemingly loving environment, and it wasn’t until my later years that I decide to traverse these parts feverishly. A gander at the photography section of my harddrive would reveal a great many pictures of the streets and waterfronts that fill this area.

This day had been one anticipated by me for several weeks now, as I had realized that I could fully mirror the walk that I had at this occasion last year: every year, my grandmother hosts a pre-Christmas Christmas gathering, and only last year or so did I realize that I wanted to see the Christmas lights. Christmas decoration is something that I wouldn’t say I detest, but I find it to be rather old in nearly every situation I face it in; the sudden fascination that came with last year’s yearning to view them was, to me, a surprise. Still, it was probably the contents of what I had in my pocket that had me wanting some forty minutes or so to myself, and it was that very same motivation that brought me out on this night. That entity is From Langley Park to Memphis.

I thought about putting a paragraph in about my adoration and constant reverence for the band that is Prefab Sprout, but feel free to check out my other works for some of that; I would hate to waste anybody’s time on such redundant nonsense. If you know my musical preferences, however, you probably know that I’ve an esteemed love for Paddy McAloon and his dreamy vocal chords, and the sophisticated dreamscapes that he fashions around his words are something to be called upon as truly sublime. I’m somebody who is willing to put aside personal differences for the sake of good music, and I can safely say that my first Prefab Sprout record helped me stand up to that test with flying colors. Now, I’m four records of theirs in and I’m loving every second of each.

Shit, I just did what I said I wouldn’t.

I left from the house exactly as I had last year, and I trawled through the suburban sprawl of familiarity exactly as I always have. I took the same route I did last year, letting each and every note of beautiful synth hit me like a rollercoaster and allowing the subtle ‘80s production of the record to help me note things I hadn’t in my previous listen: when has any musician released a record of catchy hit after catchy hit after catchy hit? Even Michael Jackson probably loathingly brooded as the face of McAloon appeared before him. The lack of trepidation and outright openness that this record contains is exquisite, and I found myself weaving in and out of the roads and parked cars with conviction. Every little thing I did in this moment mattered (but then again, isn’t that true of every moment?)

Finally, I made my way to as far back as I had the last time, and I begin to make the trip across to where I’d eventually be brought full circle. It was only upon getting to the large lakeside road that I found myself looking right instead of left, and I spied a road that I had never seen before. The pavement looked freshly-tarred even in the overly-bright, glaring streetlights ahead, and the presumed condominiums were completely foreign to my mind. Had these always been back here? Before I knew it, I was walking in their direction and racking my mind in anticipation of whatever it was that was coming.

I found myself being led now to as far as the free road would take me, and a gated community barred me from going any further. I was about to turn around when I spied the gravel road that jutted west; looking down it, I saw not a single light and no sidewalk, but such a thing wasn’t going to stall me. I took off down the road at an exhilarating pace. From Langley Park to Memphis perfectly swells on as my darkened environment was enlightened by the bliss of its essence. I felt myself contemplating all sorts of ideas about light and how it doesn’t have to solely exist in the visible form, and how audible light (though silly in concept) appeared to be wholly present in the dark and now twisting road in this thicket of tall trees. I found myself slightly apprehensive, yet not in the slightest bit afraid. I was encapsulated in darkness, yet fully embracing light. I was… far too sentimental and pedantic then, and it certainly hasn’t worn off now. Hey, good music can do that to you…

I finally emerged triumphantly from the wooded alcove that had just tried to compel me into everlasting existentialism, and the look of joy on my face must have been moronic to the outside viewer. I had just propelled myself from the road that my childhood had so often fabricated decadent and mythic legends around.  The place that I had known for my entire life, yet only visited on foot about an hour ago, had been burdened with my selfish presence for that stretch of walk.

As I walked up to the main road, I found myself looking silently at the dead patch of nothing where the caboose had been a decade before. In this very moment, music had never sounded sweeter than From Langley Park to Memphis had right then in my ears.

 

The special thing about From Langley Park to Memphis is its warm and highly musical atmosphere. “All my lazy teenage boasts are now high precision ghosts and they're coming round the track to haunt me. When she looks at me and laughs I remind her of the facts I'm the king of rock 'n' roll completely – up from suede shoes to my baby blues, hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque”. And both male and female vocals sound very harmonious and romantic. “Before you say you're lucky, before you say he's good, knock on wood. Broke your promise, broke your word, he's climbing up a ladder. Heaven had begun, he's found another angel, she'll take him down a rung or two”. Thus Prefab Sprout come forth like the last romantics of the new wave.

 

 

Boy this kind of thing is an acquired taste for me.
"I Remember That" sounds like R&B or Steely Dan, but without the qualities of those things that I like. Or with some other qualities that aren't as appealing. I dunno.
It did grow on me through the course of listening to it, but still not something I'd listen to all the time.
The opening & closing songs are delightfully strange songs though.

 

his album is just like When the World Knows Your Name - sophisti-pop group releases their best album, then releases this highly anticipated follow-up with a picture of them on the cover. It starts with just about the cheesiest and dorkiest track ever (one is "The King..." and the other is "Queen"... coincidences abound), which JUST ABOUT makes you turn it off, until the rest of the tracks come in and reassure you that it's a decent album. This one even ends with one of their weirdest tunes. A nice album but I think I'll stick to Steve McQueen and Jordan. The cover art looks like it's already on a scuffed CD in a 99c bin. Look at how washed out their pants look. The art already looks bootlegged. It looks like a Spice Girls album. What the hell.

Also I only checked this out because that musical Vito Genovese has a big personal connection to it.

 

I'll probably be lynched for this, so I'll just get it out of the way early: I have no idea why Steve McQueen is bolded on this website. When I was just discovering the band (and while I was still letting whether or not an item was bolded influence my music-buying choices) it was a turn-off for me in some places. It's least representative of the band's sound for me, and actually turned me off from Paddy and Friends for quite some time. (Opinion subject to change of course; McQueen deterred me like Kryptonite but it's not unlikely I'll revisit it and change my mind)

From Langley Park to Memphis is Paddy McAloon's full embrace of Americana. A strong American theme runs through this album, verging on tourist fanboyism. But he pulls it off, more or less despite himself.

If anyone's ever read TvTropes, they'll instantly recognize what I mean when I say that Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon is a prime example of "I Am the Band". He provides main songwriting credits, and that Sprout trademark: theatrics, androgynous vocals, odd song structures and harmonizations, and general sugary aesthetic. Nobody else could front Prefab because Paddy IS Prefab (as a result, I'll be talking about him a lot. I apologize in advance). This band is about as lollipop-like as you can get short of a toothache. Twee, twee, twee as all hell. However, there's something that saves them from the bland, dentist-office ether that so many other bands in the "sophisticated" department such as China Crisis or the particularly pompous Scritti Politti seem to suffer from: an immediately recognizable identity. 

I'm not sure how many people have actually taken the time to analyze this band's attitude, but judging from interviews, Paddy practically is the physical embodiment of his music: loud-mouthed, Irish, tongue-in-cheek, cheesy, romantic, down-to-earth, and just pleasant.. All of those characteristics apply to his music. He's 50's sensibility meets 80's romanticism. He's camp. I mean... just listen to the opener "The King of Rock 'n' Roll", with its "La la la"s, Prince-esque funky synths, production from Dolby, and the unforgettable "Hot Dog!/Jumping frog/Albuquerque". I mean, for the love of God... that is just shameless.

What makes this band what it is - is Paddy and his childlike motivations. He just goes for what he wants to do; jumps right in... no foolin' 'round. He projects interesting ideas and writes about intriguing characters in unusual situations. I'd almost go so far as to compare him to McCartney in the sense that, he shares that similar tendency to be theatrical, alongside his "pure" pop sensibilities and writings about the mundane. that - that is what prevents me from gagging from the sheer amount of metaphorical Splenda being poured down my throat. Well, almost.

Regardless of "liking it a lot", the album isn't beside its faults. I find it to be a generally hit-and-miss affair; but when it hits, it's nice. "Cars and Girls" is the song Dexy's Midnight Runners never wrote. Needless to say, I consider it to be nothing but pure pop bliss. It's got some great hooks, the lyrics stick in the mind, and the backing vocals by Wendy Smith help more than they do harm. "Nightingales" opens like it's just about to have two generic late-80's/early-90's crooners slather a female-male duet all over it, but it actually turns out to be a pretty gorgeous and wistful ballad. "Hey Manhattan!" lays a few too many Broadway theatrics on me for me to really give much more than a passing acknowledgement. "The Venus of the Soup Kitchen" meanders too much for my liking, and I'm not a big big fan of the pseudo-choir in the song's climax. "I Remember That" stars Paddy McAloon as the (late) great Sir Paul McCartney. Really, I don't know how he got away with this one. It drags on for far too long to justify its length. "Knock on Wood" (obviously, about the dangers of love and loss) is easily my favorite, the groove is easy and effortless. The only turkey that stands out to me is "The Golden Calf", and I'll let you listen to that one to figure out why for yourself.

In conclusion, I'd say that if you're a hopeless romantic, and you're not looking to raise your expectations any higher than need be... be sure to check this one out. It's not so much an album as much as it is a collection of songs, but cherry picking the highlights off this one won't hurt. But definitely do not go anywhere near this band if this isn't your cup of earl grey. But if you do - be sure to hit up Jordan next, as that's Paddy at his bizarre and campy best. Unfortunately, his absolute best is not to be found here.

Highlights: "Cars and Girls", "Nightingales", "Knock on Wood"

 

Opening with two of the band's greatest singles - the sleek, sexy Cars and Girls and, of course, the gloriously absurd The King of Rock 'n' Roll - From Langley Park to Memphis is sophisti-pop of the breeziest, smoothest variety. The thing which saves it from reverting into soulless easy listening pap is that there's this compelling air of sincerity to it; Paddy McAloon delivers the vocals with a real sense of emotional verisimilitude and the album feels real and alive to an extent which belies the occasionally rather plastic production. Admittedly the album does begin to bog down after the opening numbers - Nightingales outlasts its welcome a little in particular - but it's still a great effort and when it's on form there's nothing better. (And I can't listen to the opening track without wanting to skip around and sing along to the backing vocal.)

 

At the date it was released, I was truly disappointed with "From Langley Park to Memphis" and in many times I considered this Prefab Sprout's worst body of work. I remember saying "they sold their souls to the americans, damn!". Two decades passed and I must recognize one thing: the album aged well, and appart one misstep ("The Golden Calf"), it is a charming late 80's album, when the world was dangerously drowning into nightmares like Metallica and the Grunge dullness. Period thing, thankfully, and to be called 'period' isn't a bad thing. 

The erudite Sprouts (or should I say the erudite Paddy McAloon and cohorts?) on the way to stardom (and they got that at the time!) and rock & roll way of life? The educated and musically skilled Mr. McAloon doing Mainstream Rock, after a handful of superb albums following Steely Dan instructions according to pop music? In part yes, they momentarily sold up their souls to compose "From Langley Park to Memphis". In a certain way, they didn't recovered and since then never released an album like the first four. Paddy McAllon reconverted to the hermit of his own land, the rural northern England, collecting thousands and thousands of his never recorded songs. 

The ghosts of Brian Wilson and Steely Dan are still here, foolishly dancing beyond a cinematographic american Utopia, with all the cliches of a whealthy country. Once there was Faron Young and the rural escapade, now is Manhattan with a line of skyscrapers. Lush life! The sound is lushly in fact, there are hints of Lounge music before it turned to a 90's fashion, white gospel handing with The Wizard of Oz, in sum a sophisticated Adult Oriented Rock to people who were teenagers in the seventies. 

Not their best work, as I said, but still a worthy album, softly reflecting the sunlight of an epoch...

 

 

 

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Songs of Protest

Company: CBS

Catalog:  465118 1
Year:
 1989

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: includes lyric insert

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 40004

Price: $30.00

In the Prefab Sprout discography "Songs of Protest" is an oddity.  The album was actually recorded as a follow-up to their 1984 breakout collection "Steve McQueen/Two Wheels Good".  Initial plans called for collection to be issued as a limited quantity LP sold to audiences attending their 1985 Winter UK tour.  Label executives feared releasing a follow-up would cut into ongoing "Steve McQueen" sales so those plans were abandoned and the recordings were shelved in favor of what became their third studio set - 1988's "From Langley Park To Memphis".  It wasn't until a year later, amid delays in completing what would become "Jordan: The Comeback" that the set was finally released by Kitchenware Records.  Distribution was limited in that the album did not see a US release.

 

And if you were expecting a collection of activist protest songs, don't hold your breath.  The title seemed to have something to do with the band's return to a stripped down, rawer sound as opposed to the commercial washes their record label was pushing for.   Recorded over a two week period, the self-produced collection found the band proudly shunning most of the polish and sheen found of "Steve McQueen".  In it's place Paddy McAloon and company delivered a set of stripped down, rather stark tunes.  Even though most the previous gloss was missing, to my ears, exemplified by tunes like 'Life of Surprises', the rocker 'Wicked Things' and the bouncy 'Tiffanys' their patented sound remained instantly recognizable.  Admittedly, for folks in love with the band's more commercial sound, dark, introspective performances like 'The World Awake', 'Horsechimes', 'Diana' and 'Til' the Cows Come Home' were not going to be instantly rewarding.  That was certainly the case when I heard the album.  I literally had to set it aside and come back to it several times before it began to open up and reveal some of its charms to me.  Yeah, 'Life of Surprises' should have been a single, but the bouncy 'Tiffanys' and 'the ballad Pearly Gates' were wonderful.  In spite of somewhat clunky lyrics, the stark 'Dublin' (just  McAloon and acoustic guitar) was another highlight.  Worth the effort of powering through it several times ...

 

Released without a lot of enthusiasm from the label, or the band (who were in the studio working on "Jordan: The Comeback"), they didn't bother touring to support the set.  Interestingly that didn't stop it from going top-20 in the UK.

 

 "Songs of Protest" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) The World Awake   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:26  rating: *** stars

'The World Awake' started out sounding like one of McAloon's most commercial tunes, but somewhere along the road turned into one of his strangest offerings.  The refrain was simply bizarre ...  It's one of those tracks that's grown on me over time ...  chorus and all.

2.) Life of Surprises   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:08  rating: **** stars

Probably the album's most commercial and radio-friendly tune, 'Life of Surprises' was a demo from the earlier "From Langley Park To Memphis" sessions.  Awesome melody with a thoughtful lyric "Never let your conscience be harmful to your health - let no neurotic impulse turn inward on itself ..."; 

sweet guitar solo, propulsive bass line and McAloon's voice just kicking the crap out of the song ...   One of my favorite Sprout tunes.  Hard to understand why it wasn't initially tapped as a single, though in conjunction with a 1992 greatest hits compilation "A Life of Surprises: The Best of Prefab Sprout" it finally was released as a single.  There was also promotional video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXmkmDkQDe0 

  7" format

- 1992's 'Life of Surprises' b/w 'The King of Rock and Roll' (Kitchenware catalog number SK 63)

  12" format

- 1992's 'Life of Surprises' and 'If You Don't Love Me' (Stateside Mix)' b/w 'If You Don't Love Me (Deep Field Mix)' (Kitchenware catalog number SKX 63)

3.) Horesechimes   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:24  rating: *** stars

Certainly one of the prettiest melodies McAloon has ever written, though the lyrics are lost on my American ears.  How often do you hear a tune that includes the word "salacious"?  The tune had previously appeared as the "B" side on their 'Nightingales' single.

4.) Wicked Things   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:12  rating: **** stars

Opening up with a surprisingly raw edge, 'Wicked Things' was an unexpected delight.  As much as I love sophisticated McAloon, this one showed the band could flourish in a rawer environment.  Shame the song faded out so early.

5.) Dublin    (Paddy McAloon) - 3:42    rating: **** stars

Apparently written and planned for "Steve McQueen", 'Dublin' was a beautiful acoustic piece; just McAloon accompanying himself with guitar.  Talk about barebones Sprouts.  As usual, the lyrics were tough for me to figure out, though I've always thought the tune was a reference to conflict that wracked Northern Ireland for decades.  Simply mesmerizing ...

 

(side 2)

1.) Tiffanys   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:50   rating: **** stars

A tribute to a Newcastle nightclub where the band occasionally performed, the bouncy 'Tiffanys' was another atypical performance.  The song was one of the first written by McAloon, dating back to 1977.  Delightful.

2.) Diana  (Paddy McAloon) - 4:10   rating: ** stars

Dating back to the "Swoon" sessions, the ballad 'Diana' was another track that had previously been released - in this case a slightly different version had served as the "B" side to their 1984 single 'When Love Breaks Down'.  McAloon has gone on the record as saying the song was inspired by press treatment of the late Princes Diana.  Given it was one of the few Sprout songs without a strong melody, this one never made much of an impact on me.

3.) Talking Scarlet   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:34   rating: ** stars

As you can tell from the BadCatRecords website, I'm a big Sprout fan, but 'Talking Scarlet' was another one of the exceptions.  There was a melody buried in this mess, but it never fully came into focus and the combination of the disturbing lyric seemingly about living with forbidden lust, Wendy Smith's sharp, brittle little girl voice and a drab performance made this one bland and forgettable.

4.) Til' the Cows Come Home   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:12  rating: *** stars

With a big, open, almost theatrical vive coupled with strange industrial background sounds, 'Til' the Cows Come Home' was another track seemingly dating back to the "Steve McQueen" sessions.  The song was apparently a reflection on the poverty in England's North East.  Odd concept for a song, but then so are a lot of McAloon's songs. 

5.) Pearly Gates   (Paddy McAloon) - 5:28   rating: **** stars

Born and raised Catholic, those roots seem to have been the basis for 'Pearly Gates' which was simply one of the band's prettiest ballads.

 

 

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Jordan: The Comeback

Company: Kitchenware

Catalog:  E 46132
Year:
 1990

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 40002

Price: $30.00

 

 

Having somehow crunched 19 tracks on a single album, I couldn't help but think in a perfect world Prefab Sprout's "Jordan" The Comeback" would have been expanded with a couple of additional tracks and spaced out over a double LP.  Naturally music business economics were not about to let that happen ...

 

Reunited with producer Thomas Dolby, 1990's "Jordan: The Comeback" may be my favorite Prefab Sprout album.  Spread across nineteen songs, the album was certainly more complicated, broader and more ambitious than anything the band had released before.  It may have been intended as a concept piece.  If so the concept was lost on me, though part of the narrative seemed to deal with American culture in the form of songs showcasing Jesse James and Elvis Presley.  Elsewhere tunes like 'One of the Broken', 'Michael' and 'Mercy' had distinctive religious overtones.  Regardless, song for song it featured some of Paddy McAloon's strongest compositions - two thirds of the performances standing as potential 45s.  It was also one of the most musically diverse albums in my collection, covering everything from top-40 pop ('Looking for Atlantis'), to heart-tugging ballads ('We Let the Stars Go'), with stops along the way for funky dance-tinged numbers ('Machine Gun Ibiza'), doo-wop ('Doo-Wop In Harlem') and even Brazilian flavored Samba ('Carnival 2000').  As always, McAloon had a voice that was very appealing to my ears (check out the barebones ballad 'Mercy'), but the icing on the cake remained Wendy Smith.  Smith really wasn't much of a singer and for most of the album she was relegated to the background.  But when her sweet, little girl voice was brought up in the mix, she added a hard to describe sweetness to the proceedings.  Always wondered why it didn't make them major stars in the States ...

 

"Jordan: The Comeback" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Looking for Atlantis   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:03   rating: **** stars

The title track is one of those songs I've come to hate.  Powered by one of Paddy McAloon's brightest and most propulsive melodies and brother Martin McAloon' thundering bass line, it's a great tune.  The problem is every time I hear it, the damn thing lodges in my head for days.  The chorus is as sticky as honey.  The tune served as the album's leadoff single.  There are about a dozen variants across formats and countries.  

- 1990's 'Looking for Atlantis' b/w 'Michael' (CBS/Kitchenware catalog number 6561417)

 

The band also released a promotional video for the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBafyosi4Pg

 

Finally, YouTube has a 1990 clip of the band lip synching the tune on Terry Wogan's BBC television show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gst4XEUcZqw

 

 

 

2.) Wild Horses  (Paddy McAloon) - 3:44   rating: **** stars

'Wild Horses' was easily one of the prettiest ballads McAloon has ever penned.  Always loved the song's haunting lyrics seemingly about the clash between an old man and desire for young love.  As good as the song was, producer Thomas Dolby deserved as much credit for the unique arrangement and the weird, stabbing keyboard effects.  Strange that it wasn't tapped as a single.  Tidbit: British actress Jenny Agutter provided the female voice.

3.) Machine Gun Ibiza  (Paddy McAloon) - 3:43   rating: **** stars

McAloon's lyrics are frequently cryptic to my ears and seldom more than the hyper-catchy 'Machine Gin Ibiza'.  Cpuld  it really be about nightlife on the Spanish island of Ibiza?  That didn't stop this from being my favorite performance.  Surprisingly funky and another tune that would have made a dandy single.

4.) We Let the Stars Go  (Paddy McAloon) - 3:39   rating: ***** stars

Years ago the Navy sent me to leadership training at the Darden School of Business.  One of the things I went through was a battery of personality tests.  For someone who had been a single dad and thought I was fairly empathetic, I was horrified to learn  I had the sensitivity of a brick.  I remember calling my wife to talk about the training and almost crying.  As you can imagine, I don't let feelings take over very often, but this beautiful and mournful ballad gets to me very time I hear it.  Simply stunning.  

The album's second single, it was also released in a number of countries and formats including conventional 7", 12", CD and cassette formats.

 

UK 7" pressing:

- 1990's'We Let the Stars Go' b/w 'Cruel' (Kitchenware catalog number SK 48)

 

The band also released a promotional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbpVP1qc96Y

 

5.) Carnival 2000  (Paddy McAloon) - 3:22   rating: **** stars

Sporting a bouncy Samba flavor, 'Carnival 2000' was very different than the rest of their catalog, but all the better for the change in direction.   The song was released as a UK single

- 1991's 'Carnival 2000' b/w 'One of the Broken' (Kitchenware catalog number Columbia/Kitchenware catalog number 656688)

 

There was also a promotional single: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdYNJKZ9RDU

 

YouTube also has a clip of a live performance of the song from a 1991  appearance on the BBC's "Going Live" children's television series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6wwLNQDX_I

 

 

 

 

6.) Jordan: The Comeback  (Paddy McAloon) - 4:13   rating: **** stars

Was he trying to sound like Elvis on the spoken word introduction?  Elvis alive and living in hiding in the desert?  Always been a mystery to me ...  but when the song's melody popped out, it was pretty amazing.  YouTube has a live clip of the song at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN4faK43_J0

7.) Jesse James Symphony  (Paddy McAloon) - 2:15   rating: ** stars

It didn't have much of a melody and was a but heavy in the lyric department, so 'Jesse James Symphony' was the first song that didn't wipe me out ...  

8.) Jesse James Bolero  (Paddy McAloon) - 4:10   rating: **** stars

After the spare keyboard-propelled 'Jesse James Symphony' the fully orchestrated 'Jesse James Bolero' hit me with force of a baseball bat.  Lyrically this one was simply odd, but that quirkiness made it entertaining and I've always loved the banjo segment (about two minute sin).

9.) Moondog  (Paddy McAloon) - 4:12   rating: *** stars

Yeah, I won't pretend to have an idea what 'Moondog' was about.  It started out as a standard ballads before picking up speed and morphing into a catchy pop tune with some cheesy '70s synthesizers and though incredibly weird lyrics.

 

(side 2)

1.) All the World Needs Lovers  (Paddy McAloon) - 3:50   rating: **** stars

Another beautiful and thought provoking ballad where Smith's backing vocals pushed the results into a different level.  Two years later, in conjunction with the release of a "greatest hits" album (1992's "The Best of Prefab Sprout: A Life of Surprises"), the song was released as a UK single.   

 

 

- 1992's 'All the World Loves Lovers' b/w 'Machine Gun Ibiza' (Kitchenware catalog number SK 62)

 

There was also a  promotional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07RoD2mD_WI

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.) All Boys Believe Anything  (Paddy McAloon) - 1:34   rating: ** stars

'All Boys Believe Anything' sounded like an unfinished song fragment and was notable for featuring drummer Conti and Smith on vocals.

3.) The Ice Maiden  (Paddy McAloon) - 3:19   rating: **** stars

With a great melody and some of the album's most intriguing lyrics, 'The Ice Maiden' was another standout performance and one of Smith's standout moments.

4.) Paris Smith  (Paddy McAloon) - 2:55   rating: ** star

Pretty ballad, perhaps inspired by Wendy's newborn child ...

5.) The Wedding March  (Paddy McAloon) - 2:50   rating: ** star

Old fashion, English big band swing tune.   I suspect Paul McCartney would have approved.  

6.) One of the Broken  (Paddy McAloon) - 3:55   rating: *** stars

Starting out with the voice of God (I'm not kidding), 'One of the Broken' was another pretty ballad with lyrics that were definitely out of the mainstream.  

7.) Michael  (Paddy McAloon) - 3:02   rating: *** stars

McAloon and Thomas Dolby collide with a bunch of monks who are members of a Gregorian choir ...  Strange, dark and haunting tune with lots of bizarre religious imagery - the Devil trying to get back into God's good graces?.  

8.) Mercy  (Paddy McAloon) - 1:23   rating: **** stars

Clocking in under two minutes, 'Mercy' was the album's prettiest performance and also the album's starkest performance - just McAloon accompanied by an acoustic guitar

9.) Scarlet Nights  (Paddy McAloon) - 4:17   rating: **** stars

Anything that starts with church organ captures my attention ...   And just when you started thinking "another pretty ballad", it blew up into an '80s-flavored rocker.  Love the '80s guitar effects and McAloon and Smith's smooth harmonies on this wonderful anthem.

10.) Doo-Wop In Harlem  (Paddy McAloon) - 3:44   rating: **** stars

One of the great truths that most of us don't want to confront ...  Somehow this four minutes makes it seem a little easier to face the final chapter that awaits us all.  Yeah, this is one you can play at my final party. Neither the video or sound quality are great, but YouTube has a live television performance of the tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKvdzrSUR5U

 



Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Andromeda Heights

Company: Kitcheware

Catalog9075945951 5
Year:
 1997

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): NM / NM

Comments: sealed copy; re-mastered

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 30980

Price: $40.00

 

In the seven years following the release of "Jordan: The Comeback" and Prefab Sprout's next studio album, McAloon endured extended creative issues with Sony (label executives were reportedly less than excited by the planned follow-up "Let's Change the World with Music"), a period of music burnout and several years working on a sprawling, complex concept piece tentatively entitled "Earth the Story So Far".

 

Reality in the form of funding and time constraints ultimately saw Prefab Sprout returned to the airwaves with 1997's "Andromeda Heights".  While billed as a Prefab release, this seemed much like a Paddy McAloon solo effort.  McAloon produced the album and was responsible for penning all eleven tracks.  Add to that original drummer Neil Conti did not participate (replaced by Paul Smith) and singer Wendy Smith was largely absent.  Apparently conceived as concept album, the plotline was lost to my ears.  In spite of the lengthy layoff, McAloon sounded in good form and while the collection had more than it's share of moments, it suffered from an overabundance of ballads.  Side one alone featured four ballads, the exceptions being the singles 'Electric Guitars' and 'A Prisoner of the Past'.  That carried over to side two which featured another five ballads - 'The Fifth Horseman' being the exception.   I'll admit that I love a good ballad as much as anyone and there were plenty here (check out the gorgeous 'A Prisoner of the Past' and 'Steal Your Past'), but after a while there was a certain sounds-the-same effect across these grooves and the overabundance of heart-on-my-sleeve sentiments was overwhelming. With quite a bit of promotional support, though no tour, the album actually sold well in the UK, hitting # 7 on the charts, where it also spun off two mid-charting singles.  Always loved Annie Magill's cover art.

 

"Andromeda Heights" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Electric Guitars   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:41  rating: **** stars

Isn't it a dream most boys have?  A sweet performance built on one of McAloon's prettiest melodies and a set of interesting lyrics.  The song was released as the album's second CD single:

 

 

- 1989's 'Electric Guitars', 'Dragons' and 'The End of the Affair' (Kitchenware catalog number SKCD 071)

 

There's also a cute promotional single: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-KIHpU2Ly8

 

 

 

 

2.) A Prisoner of the Past   (Paddy McAloon) - 5:01  rating: **** stars

'A Prisoner of the Past' opened up with a Phil Spector wall-of-sound vibe and unwrapped itself to be another one of his standout reflections on the power and pain of love.  I hate the melody because it simply won't leave my head whenever I hear it.  The tune was tapped as the album's leadoff single, released in CD and cassette formats and was accompanied by a promotional video.

 

 

- 1989's 'A Prisoner of the Past' (radio edit) / 'A Prisoner of the Past' (album version) / 'Just because I Can' and 'Where the Heart Is' (Kitchenware catalog number SKCD 070)

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlWPvaevTCI

 

 

 

3.) The Mystery of Love   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:37  rating: *** stars

'The Mystery of Love' was another pretty, but under whelming ballad.  A little too Bacharach-David MOR for McAloon's own good.

4.) Life's a Miracle   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:44  rating: *** stars

The lyrics were clearly heartfelt, touching and thought provoking (words we should all strive to live by), but they were buried in another ballad that was pretty but just kind of blurred together with the previous track.

5.) Anne Marie   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:35  rating: *** stars

Yet another pretty ballad, though this one lacked your typical McAloon killer melody ...  Nice acoustic guitar solo ...  Stay away from married women ...  Stay away from glockenspiel solos ...

6.) Whoever You Are   (Paddy McAloon) - 2:47  rating: *** stars

So why not end the side with a pretty ballad?

 

(side 2)

1.) Steal Your Thunder   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:41  rating: **** stars

And just when I bitched about the overabundance of ballads, along comes another one that makes me regret my complaining - 'Steal Your Thunder'.  "I might get lucky and roll a six, there is a chance I'll get lucky and see lightening strike twice."  What a great line.  Add in some nice Stevie Wonder-styled harmonica and one of the prettiest sax solos I've ever heard (courtesy of Tommy Smith) and this was another album highlight.

2.) Avenue of Stars   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:59  rating: **** stars

The heavily orchestrated 'Avenue of Stars' has always reminded me of something a '60s big band might have recorded for a film soundtrack.  Not sure why, but I really liked this one and the opening instrumental section is simply spellbinding. 

3.) Swans   (Paddy McAloon) - 2:36  rating: *** stars

Interesting lyric seemingly commenting on faithfulness, or lack thereof.  Wonder who else but McAloon come up with an analogy like this ...

4.) The Fifth Horseman   (Paddy McAloon) -  4:42  rating: **** stars

Guess I'd never thought of love as joining the Biblical apocalypse along with death, war, the antichrist and famine ...  Awesome tune with one of those melodies that McAloon seemed to so effortlessly toss out.  It should  have been the album's first single.

5.) Weightless   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:36  rating: **** stars

Dreamy melody with some awesome synthesizers and a fascinating lyric that was was worth hearing just for the references to Yuri Gagarin ...

6.) Andromeda Heights   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:04  rating: *** stars

Thanks to Tommy Smith's sax solo, the title track opened up sound like something off a Gerry Rafferty album.  Almost a waltz, it was another extremely pretty selection, but by this point I was ballad burned out.  I believe McAloon named his recording studio Andromeda. 


 


Genre: rock

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  The Gunman and Other Stories

Company: EMI/Liberty

Catalog: 7243 5 32613 2 0
Year:
 2001

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): NM/NM

Comments: CD format

Available: --

Catalog ID: 40001

Price: --

 

 

On the heels of a brief 1999 tour of the UK, Paddy McAloon decided to go back into the studio.  Though the resulting album "The Gunman and Other Stories" was released as a Prefab Sprout project, drummer Bill Conti and singer Wendy Smith were gone, leaving Paddy and brother Martin McAloon to surround themselves with various sessions players. Produced by Tony Visconti, I've also seen the collection described as a concept piece.  Tracks like 'Cowboy Dreams', a cover of 'Street of Laredo', 'Cornfields Ablaze' and the title track certainly seem to reflect McAloon's long standing fascination with the American West, though there didn't seem to be much of a unifying theme.  At the same time McAloon seemingly used this as an opportunity to do a little "Spring cleaning", documenting material he'd provided to outside artists - notably Cher who covered the title track and 'Cowboy Dreams' and three other tunes that were recorded by British actor Jimmy Nails for the British television series "Crocodile Shoes".  Admittedly it's an odd collection that tends to get lots of criticism from Prefab Sprout fans.  The over-abundance of bland ballads meant it wasn't my favorite Sprout release, but I think it's far better than what most folks think.  By my count, six of the ten performances were strong with the cover of 'Street of Laredo', the rocker 'Cornfield Ablaze' and the country-tinged 'The Gunman' matching anything in the band's earlier catalog.  Certainly a strange album, but worth hearing for McAloon's willingness to take musical chances.

"The Gunman and Other Stories" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Cowboy Dreams   (Paddy McAloon) - 5:19   rating: **** stars

'Cowboy Dreams' was originally written for an English television series - "Crocodile Shoes" about a British country singer played by actor Jimmy Nale.  As mentioned above, hearing Prefab Sprout (okay Paddy and Martin McAloon) recording a true country song was somewhat of a shock.  Initially the tune didn't make much of an impression on me,, but it's one of those songs that's grown on me over time.  McAloon's wistful delivery and the nifty banjo riff are pretty cool and it's hard not to like a song with a lyric as romantic and cool as "I want it written on my tombstone here lies the boy who stole your heart".   By the way, released as a single, Nail's version is quite good (hitting the UK top-20 charts), though I'd have to give the nod to McAloon's version.

EMI didn't put much effort into the album, though they released the title track as a promotion single in CD format:

 

- 2001 's 'Cowboy Dreams' (EMI catalog number PREFAB 001)

 

YouTube has a copy of the promotional video and a clip of the McAloon brothers playing the song on a 2001 performance on Top of the Pops: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xps2q4WKF04  and 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA_fTb_ZNjk 

 

 

 

2.) Wild Card In the Pack   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:40   rating: **** stars

For a guy who loves words, Prefab Sprout songs are a joy and that's certainly the case with 'Wild Card In the Pack'.  Add in a breezy, keyboard-propelled, radio-ready melody and McAloon' sweet voice, and this was one of the album's hidden treasures.  

3.) I'm a Troubled Man   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:19   rating: ** stars

Another tune written for Jimmy Nail's "Crocodile Shoes", 'I'm a Troubled Man' was a typically pretty ballad, but lacked that certain something that made for a classic Prefab Sprout performance.

4.) The Streets of Laredo / Not For Long This World  (traditional arranged by Paddy McAloon) - 3:46   rating: **** stars

If you're my age, then the Marty Robbin's version of 'The Streets of Laredo' is burned into your mind.  That makes Prefab Sprout's accomplishment even more impressive - the mash-up of the traditional tune with McAloon's own 'Not for Long This World' managed to make me forget Robbin's classic version of the tune.  With a wonderfully epic arrangement their version was even more tragic and memorable than Robbin's take on the tune.

5.) Love Will Find Someone for You   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:23   rating: ** stars

Another "Crocodile Shoes" composition", read the comments on 'I'm a Troubled Man'.  They apply to this one as well.

6.) Cornfield Ablaze   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:15   rating: **** stars

Another Prefab song that I hate ...  I hate it because it's one of those tunes that I simply cannot shake out of my head when I hear it.  The one song that's liable to please "Steve McQueen" era fans ...  great melody; interesting lyrics ("I saw you from the tractor.  The harvest had begun.  You were the love child of two gods.  I was the farmer's awkward son ..."); great arrangement that manages to straddle orchestrated pop and rock with near perfect results.  Should have been released as a single.

7.) When You Get To Know Be Better   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:08   rating: ** stars

Another nod to McAloon's fascination with Elvis Presley 'When You Get To Know Me Better' was a  flat and forgettable ballad with a needless country-twang making it even less palatable to my ears.

8.) The Gunman   (Paddy McAloon) - 8:41   rating: **** stars

I always wondered how Cher came to record 'The Gunman' for her 1995 "It's a Man's World" collection.  And while I'm not a big Cher fan, she did a nice job on her cover.  She also kept it much shorter than McAloon's version.  Anyhow, what about the original?  Songs that start out with spoken word intros tend to end badly.  Add to that, songs that extend over eight minutes tend to end badly.  Between those two characteristics I didn't hold out much hope for the title track.  The good news is this was another tune that took a while to grow on me, but the combination of the Western theme and producer Visconti's Jimmy Webb-flavored arrangement eventually won me over.

9.) Blue Roses   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:11   rating: *** stars

McAloon had the ability to effortlessly toss off pretty ballads.  The problem is when you put so many on an album, they start to overwhelm the listener.  'Blue Roses' may have been the prettiest of the group, but by this point in the album, I just didn't need to hear another one ...  This was the fourth "Crocodile Shoes" related song.

10.) Farmyard Cat   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:13   rating: * star

Yeah, I've struggled to come up with something nice to say about 'Farmyard Cat'.   Well, it was relatively short ...  Set to something sounding like a mixture of Saturday night hoedown and Western film soundtrack, the combination of questionable lyrics and cat sound effects made this a real questionable endeavor.  Maybe McAloon was just trying to be funny?

 


 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Let's Change the World with Music

Company: Kitchenware/Sony

CatalogKWLP41-10
Year:
 2019

Country/State: UK

Grade (cover/record): NM/NM

Comments: sealed copy

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 30980

Price: $60.00

 

Somewhat of a comeback release, 2009's "Let There Be Music" marked Prefab Sprout's first studio album since 2001's "The Gunman and Other Stories".  If you want to talk about a collection with a tortured birth, then here's a good one to start with.  Front man Paddy McAloon had written the majority of the eleven tracks in the 1992 timeframe, intending them for Prefab Sprout's follow-on to 1990's "Jordan: The Comeback".   The demos were presented to Sony Music, but label executives were less than excited by the results.  Having presented 14 demos, Sony management apparently wanted McAloon to cull down the number of tracks for the forthcoming release.  McAloon walked away with the understanding the label wanted him to focus on writing new material based on two or three of the ideas reflected in the demos.  Needless to say, the two sides never cleared up the misunderstanding.  Over the next year and a half  McAloon went back into the studio writing taking the song "Earth: The Story so Far" and expending it to a 30 concept piece.  By the time the two sides cleared up their misunderstandings, McAloon had moved on, recording new material that hit the market in the form of 1997's "Andromeda Heights" and various follow-ups.  These songs stayed on the shelf until 2009 when at the suggestion of long time manager Keith Armstrong and looking for some income, McAloon resurrected them, dropping the title track and adding material he'd originally written for other artists ('Ride' was recorded by Australian singer Wendy Matthews, Francis Ruffelle had recorded 'God Watch Over You')..

 

Recorded without the rest of the band (McAloon responsible for all of the instrumentation), the eleven performance were self-produced in McAloon's home studio.  I'm probably reading too much into it, but the given the title and the numerous songs with music oriented lyrics, the collection seemed to have a modest concept feel - perhaps the joys and redemptive power of the art form.  The album also sported a modest secular feel (check out tracks like 'Ride' and 'Earth: The Story So Far). It was an in-your-face type of bible thumping, rather a subtle, thoughtful approach.  Regardless of whether it was a concept album or McAloon's "Christian" album, to my ears the results were thoroughly enjoyable; occasionally matching the creative heights of the band's earlier heyday.  One of the few albums in my collection where I enjoyed virtually ever track (the lone exception being 'Meet the new Mozart').  McAloon's voice remained in fine form and while the collection occasionally suffered from a mid-'90s sound (some of the synth patterns were definitely dated), on song after song McAloon displayed his unabashed talents for crafting mesmerizing melodies and thought provoking lyrics ('God Watch Over You' and 'Sweet Gospel Music').  I'm probably alone in this corner, but I'd say this is my favorite Prefab Sprout collection.

 

"Let's Change the World with Music" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Let There Be Music   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:44  rating: **** stars

Hum, I never would have expected a Prefab Sprout album to start out with a religious hip hop segment ...  Momentarily jarring, but it made sense in the overall scheme of things.  You just have to marvel at his ability to toss off gorgeous melodies like this one.  The track was briefly released as a promo CD single:

- 1997's 'Let There Me Music' (Sony - no catalog number)

 

2.) Ride   (Paddy McAloon) -  4:04    rating: **** star

McAloon's secular album?  Well, judging by lyrics like "Ride, ride home to Jesus, head held high" you could easily make that connection.  And if you did and found some degree of comfort in the results, what's the harm?  And if you thought it was just a good pop song with a wild synthesizer line ... what's the harm?   Either way, just enjoy the four minutes of bliss.

3.) I Love Music   (Paddy McAloon)  4:49    rating: **** stars

Any other performer and I would have just lifted the needle and moved on to the next tune ...  But there was just something magnet in McAloon's honey dipped voice and this breezy, lounge act tune.  The bass line was awesome and the nod to Chic always makes me smile.

4.) God Watch Over You   (Paddy McAloon) -  4:33   rating: ***** stars

I'll be the first to admit that I've been very blessed in my life.  I frequently wonder why I've been given a wonderful family; a job I like, and a sense of physical, mental and spiritual comfort.  While I seldom understand the challenges, opportunities, or experiences I'm confronted with, I try to appreciate them all. Admittedly, some experiences are better than others, but they all seem to have some purpose - what those purposes may be is part of the mystery.  It may have something to do with the fact that when you turn 60, you suddenly realize that there are only so many innings in the game and then it's over. Admittedly there have been more than my share of missed opportunities and regrets.  And here's the story of one of those regrets.


It starts with me sitting on my deck reading a travel book, having a Blue Moon and listening to random songs on YouTube.   Out of the blue Prefab Sprout's 'God Watch Over You" came on the radio.  I like Paddy McAloon and Prefab Sprout, but I'd never heard this particular track.  That said, the soothing melody and unique lyrics grabbed me by the throat.  While his melodies are occasionally a bit on the sound-alike side, McAoon writes some of the most interesting lyrics I've ever heard (okay, 'King of Rock and Roll' may be an exception).  In this case instantly put the book down and hit replay.  And while I was sitting there soaking in McAloon's thoughtful lyrics I was struck by a huge wave of unexpected regret.  

Here's the back story.  My younger son is a Boy Scout and in the Summer of 2018 his Troop spent two weeks in Kandersteg, Switzerland.  The trip was largely arranged and coordinated by Joseph White.  Probably best known as a sportswriter for the Washington Post, White was a long-standing member of the Troop, having participated in dozens of the Troop's camping trips and other activities,  He'd also coordinate four or five previous Kandersteg trips for the Troop, but this was the first one we'd participated in. 


While I knew Mr. White from Troop meetings, I'll readily admit I didn't know him well. Over the years my son's been a member of this Troop, I've probably never had a conversation with Mr. White that last more than 20 minutes.   That said, he was sharp as a tack; had insights into all kinds of subjects (how many folks do you know that could teach a Troop of young Scouts and their parents how to play Cricket); he was quick to laugh; had a strong sense of right and wrong, seemed to have more friends than anyone I've ever met, and was great with the Scouts.  He was in fantastic physical shape (trying to keep up with him on training hikes for the Switzerland trip almost killed me).  He was also quirky.  Not quirky in a bad way; rather quirky in a cool, entertaining fashion.


While I won't lie and tell you I loved every minute of the Switzerland trip (two weeks in a crappy tent was challenging and for a picky eater the camp food was frequently lackluster to my tastes), there were plenty of amazing moments and seeing my younger son effortlessly cruise through all of the challenges and make friends with a host of foreign Scouts was worth all of my personal discomfort.  


In the wake of the trip I meant to send Mr. White a note thanking him for arranging the trip.  Summer faded into Winter and I meant to send him a Christmas card with my thanks.  Winter came and went.  Spring; Summer ...   In June I had to drive to Front Royal, Virginia (close to where Mr. White had settled and was operating a store), and while coming home I reminded myself to send him a note. Again, no note. Every time I thought about sending him a note, I'd put it off.
Only 56, Joseph White died August 10th, 2019.

5.) Music Is a Princess   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:31    rating: **** stars

Crap, a big ballad with sappy lyrics, 'Music Is a Princess' was one of those songs that I really wanted to dislike.  The problem was McAloon's melody won't leave your head once invited inside.

6.) Earth: The Story So Far   (Paddy McAloon) - 5:01    rating: **** stars

To my ears it was easy to see and hear why McAloon would have decided to expand 'Earth: The Story So Far'.  Breezy and instantly beguiling, showcasing his magical voice,  I would have listened to a 30 track concept album on the subject.  

 

(side 2)

1.) Last of the Great Romantics   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:39    rating: **** stars

Bennett, Cole, Sinatra ...  I imagine they all would have been happy to hear this lushes ballad.

2.) Falling In Love   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:10     rating: *** stars

On any other album, the glistening ballad 'Falling In Love' would have bee a center piece.  Here's it was relegated to also-ran performance.  McAloon's multi-tracked vocals were simply gorgeous.

3.) Sweet Gospel Music   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:23    rating: **** stars

The album's second best song with a piano based hook that you simply can't shake out of your head...  

4.) Meet the New Mozart   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:13   rating: ** stars

The album's line disappointment - the concept was probably better than the actual execution.

5.) Angel of Love   (Paddy McAloon) -  4:23    rating: **** stars

Admittedly, initially I thought this was an anticlimactic and disappointing way to end the album.   Geez, yet another heartfelt ballad ...  And eventually the song's charms and sincerity got to me.

 

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Crimson / Red

Company: Verycords

Catalog6022046190
Year:
 2018

Country/State: France

Grade (cover/record): NM / NM

Comments: sealed copy

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 30980

Price: $50.00

 

As the heart and soul of Prefab Sprout, in the early 2000s Paddy McAloon stepped away from music in order to deal with  a series of medical issues including severe tinnitus and the slow loss of his sight.  For all intents and purposes a McAloon solo efforts, 2013's "Crimson / Red" marked Prefab Sprout's collection of new studio material since 2003s' "I Trawl the Megahertz".  Co-produced by McAloon and Calum Malcolm, this one was a true solo release with McAllon writing all ten tracks and responsible for almost all of the instrumentation.  

 

Frankly I had no idea what to expect from this comeback.  Even without medical issues and a decade long hiatus, comebacks are frequently disappointing.  And to his credit McAloon beats the odds, turning in one of the year's best (if largely unheard) albums.  Judging by these ten tracks, McAloon's instantly recognizable voice had weathered his medical challenges without change.  The guy sure didn't sound like any late 50 year old I've ever heard.  Similarly his knack for crafting songs that were catchy and thought provoking remained unabated.  I try not to live in the past, but at it's best, songs like 'Billy' and 'Mystereous' sound like they were written and recorded for one of Prefab's mid-'80s albums.  By my count, eight of the ten songs were among the best things he'd recorded.  With a classic combination of a hyper commercial melody and eclectic lyrics, 'The Best Jewel Thief In the World' opened the album with one of those should-have-been-a-massive hit tracks. And frankly, the album seldom let up afterwards.  'List of Impossible Things', 'Grief Built the Taj Mahal', 'Devil Came Calling" ...  every one of these tunes had something going for it.  In fact my only complaint had to do with the album's marketing.  Given you can't turn on a radio with out hearing some mass-produced, auto-tuned dance track, try finding a copy of this set in the States ...  virtually impossible.  It was almost as if the industry had decided music and talent didn't matter anymore.

 

"Crimson / Red" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) The Best Jewel Thief In the World   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:56 rating: ***** stars

McAllon's lyrics have always left me at a loss - not in a bad way, but in an intriguing, challenging fashion.  It's similar to trying to figure out what a Steely Dan song is about (if in doubt, sex, drugs and rock and roll are usually safe guesses).  When he wraps those lyrics in a song as gorgeous as 'The Best Jewl Thief Int the World', the lyrics almost don't matter.  An edited version of the tune ("what do any of those assholes know?"), was tapped as a promotional CDr release in the UK and the Benelux.

A promotional video was also released: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwmn7ad97Ho 

2) List of Impossible Things   (Paddy McAloon) - rating: **** stars

Folks used to laugh at Dylan for his dense lyrics.  McAloon's got the market cornered in this realm.  Another example where the lyrics are impentrable to my ears, but the fact the song is wrapped in such a glorious melody overcomes that limitation.  The guitar solo was simply too-die-for.

3.) Adolescence   (Paddy McAloon) -  rating: *** stars

'Adolescence' was the first track that didn't knock me for a loop ...  Maybe the portrait of lost youth and trying to get in touch with my own adolescence was simply too personnel.  Pretty song and those with a penchant for self-evaluation will undoubtedly love it.

4.) Grief Built the Taj Mahal   (Paddy McAloon) - rating: **** stars

Opening up with some dazzling jazzy guitar, 'Grief Built the Taj Mahal' was one of those songs where you were left to ponder where McAloon came up with  his ideas.  I'm not the deepest thinker you'll ever meet, but I have to admit the lyrics made me think and even look up the story of the Taj Mahal ...  I had no idea.  What a wonderful story.

5.) Devil Came Calling   (Paddy McAloon) - 3:41 rating: **** stars

Just speculation on my part, but I'm guessing the plotline might have had something to do with the costs of fame.  Again, it almost didn't matter since the combination of the lyrics (an opportunity to live of "Fellatio Drive") and the upbeat, slightly folky melody was a killer combination.  When I first heard it, I must have hummed the tune non-stop for a month.

 

(side 2)

1.) Billy   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:41 rating: **** stars

Classic Prefab Sprout; glistening melody and a lyric that was clever and though provoking ... how could you not stop and ponder a lyric like "her smile is like a fairground, I'm basking in the glow"?   How is it a song like this was thoroughly ignored by radio while mindless dance acts pack the airwaves.  The decline and fall of Western society ...  Another tune that was released as a promotional CDr:

 

 

 

 

-2014's 'Billy' (Go Entertainment GO 70551) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.) The Dreamer   (Paddy McAloon) - 6:01  rating: **** stars

Sweet and sappy with some of the best harmonies he's ever recorded.   It's one of those songs I would never readily admit to loving.

3.) The Songs of Danny Galway   (Paddy McAloon) - rating: **** stars

Supposedly a tribute to songwriter Jimmy Webb, 'The Songs of Danny Galway' was another album highlight.  A pretty ballad that most bands would kill to have crafted, thinking about it I can actually see why McAloon would identify so closely with Webb.  Men who worship at the alter of melody and thoughtful pop ...  Hard to think of many higher callings.

4.) The Old Magician   (Paddy McAloon) - 2:51  rating: **** stars

Built on a simple, bouncy acoustic melody, as a 60 year old white guy who is approaching the end of his work life, I could readily identify with the lyrics reflecting on aging.  Could anyone have said it better?  "Death is a lousy disappearing act ..."

5.) Mysterious   (Paddy McAloon) - 4:26  rating: **** stars

Another tribute - this one supposedly a nod to Dylan.  Love the organ fills that make this one of the set's hidden surprises.  Almost criminally addictive..

 

 

 

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