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- Crimson/Red by Prefab Sprout
9/10 Clinton Staff review, 04 October 2013
Over the past decade or so, Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout has gained a reputation more for the music he hasn’t released rather than that he has. Several titles of unreleased projects have been fed to his adoring yet frustrated fan base in recent years; ‘Michael Jackson: Behind the Veil’, ‘Zorro the Fox’, ‘Total Snow’, ‘Earth: The Story So Far’ and ‘Zero Attention Span’ to name but a few.
But just when you start wondering whether this is a Salinger-like ploy to divert fans away from a terminally lost muse, McAloon re-appears out of nowhere with his best album for many, many years. In recent past the news of a new Prefab Sprout album for this long term fan would always mean excitement followed by crushing disappointment. When albums appeared they were either mostly over-saccharine (‘Andromeda Heights’), session-musician bland (‘The Gunman and Other Stories’) or unfathomable quasi-religious synth pop (‘Lets Change the World With Music’).
Yet I never gave up on them, the odd stand out track here, a brilliant B side there or his tremendous scandalously underrated solo album ‘I Trawl the Megahertz’ gave rise that one day we would hear music comparable to their high water mark ‘Steve McQueen’. And here it is. For this album McAloon has largely disgarded the complexly sophisticated Gershwin-influenced song structures he started meddling in in the late '80s and returns to a much more straight forward pop style and its this simplicity that really pays off.
Due to several hearing and visual impairments that struck McAloon around the turn of the decade, he now works alone but what the album lacks in production values and dynamics it more than makes up for in melody and superb songwriting craft. Like fellow '80s melodicist Green Gartside, Paddy has somehow retained the same gorgeous breathy vocal style he had in 1984 and one which always has me on the verge of tears even when the material is resolutely upbeat. The rollicking ‘Billy’ blasts along, driven forward by an oddball fake harmonica sound that is littered throughout the album yet, there is something so heartfelt in the lyric and so perfectly crafted that its hard to fight away tears.
I don’t know if it's that light Geordie brogue or the fact that the likeable McAloon lives just a few bus stops away from my where my grandparents used to live but something connects so strongly with me that I’m reduced to childlike wonder at various points. I’m pleased to see a return to some guitar based material (albeit at times with a computerised tint), McAloon has always been a much undervalued guitarist with a lovely finesse and lightness of touch, something that was lost in the synth driven late '80s work. It's also safe to say McAloon has the key to the perfectly turned out lyrical phrase, closer ‘Mysterious’ is full of them, “You catch the world in images, to annotate the feast” this is perfectly crafted music both lyrically and melodically, the descending washes of guitar are joined by organ and harmonica in a lovely sonic soup that is gentle, heartwarming and clever.
Paddy ain’t no modernist, you won’t find him working with Eno or hanging round todays hip new bands and perhaps as a result of his reclusiveness some of the production here is just on the borderline of cheesy. Instead, he is a classic songwriter in the manner of Wilson, Bacharach et al so not on trend that the whole thing comes full circle and kind of becomes cool because of its lack of interest in modern day whistles and bells. This will probably win him few new fans, but if you swooned to ‘Swoon’ and ‘Steve Mcqueen’ or had your head knocked off by ‘Jordan the Comeback’ then this is the perfect return. A wonderful musician finding a way and a means to reclaim a crown that should have rightly always been his.
9/10 Gareth. Customer review, 7th October 2013
This is one of the contenders for LP of the year so far, McAloon is adept at riding the waves of the human condition as he's proved countless times before and can mine pure pop nuggets like well, no one else around at the moment really.
He is unique and certainly should be given the status of national treasure by the national trust!
The songs on this LP do hark back to the 'Steve McQueen' era without the Dolby production values.
That matters not really though because the songs transcend this setback.
'Billy' is a gorgeous tune that could have easily come from the Cocteau Twins if you strip away the squawking harmonica and Paddy's vocal. All silver shining acoustic guitar strums and deep blue/purple melancholy.
However with those two elements added it takes on a whole new meaning with amazing wordplay and such heartfelt and tender words it takes your breath away.
There are great songs on this record, overall it's a shining return to form, gracefull, full of wondeful bright and shiny pop hooks that stay lodged in your head for days.
I really hope this puts Paddy back into the limelight of great British songsmiths. He's a unique character
and we're lucky to have him..
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