Prefab Sprout's 'Crimson/Red' - One of 2013's unexpected gems...
Back after more than a decade
It has been 12 years since the last Prefab Sprout album proper – 2001’s The Gunman And Other Stories – and a decade since the enigmatic Paddy McAloon released anything at all, his one and only solo record arriving in 2003 in the form of I Trawl the Megahertz.
Now Prefab Sprout return with Crimson/Red, featuring 10 brand new tracks from one of the UK’s most idiosyncratic and literate songwriters.
So where has Paddy been hiding? Sadly, by all accounts the last few years have been difficult for McAloon; he has struggled for some time with a medical disorder affecting his vision, but in 2006 he was reportedly diagnosed with Ménière's disease, a condition that affects the inner ear and that has caused his hearing to deteriorate, a nightmare for any musician and one that McAloon described himself in an interview with The Telegraph as “a hearing disaster”. Despite this – and despite the lack of releases in the meantime – he has never stopped writing and recording, so Crimson/Red is what McAloon describes as “a collection of things that I’ve done in the time I’ve been quiet.”
""I was 28 when Steve McQueen came out, you know? I'm double that age now, every 28 years I come up with a good 'un." - Paddy McAloon"
Opening track and lead single ‘The Best Jewel Thief In The World’ shows that McAloon still has all his faculties intact - the sirens that accompany the intro are typical of the lush, almost cinematic production that you would expect from a Prefab Sprout record, propelled by strumming acoustic guitar and smooth, sparkling synths – while the lyrics are as comic and poetic as ever: (‘’Watch a legend grow, the rooftops are for dreamers / Down below, down below, what do any of those assholes know?’’)
‘Adolescence’ is reminiscent of 70’s Kraftwerk with its pulsating rhythms and synth brass, augmented by delicately picked acoustic guitars and a crooning vocal about the challenges of growing up. ‘Devil Came A Calling’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, with McAloon singing about a pact with "El Diablo" himself in exchange for success, over an urgent bassline and insistent, strumming guitars.
‘Mysterious’ almost sounds as if it was written sitting on a farmhouse porch in Nebraska, all strum-along acoustic guitars and harmonica, but juxtaposed with organs that sound like they come straight from the carousel at an old-time fun fair, while ‘The Old Magician’ finds McAloon at his story-telling best, recounting a yarn about a performer who has had his day and featuring some of the best and most heartbreaking lyrics on the album: ("Words of sympathy and tact / only underline the fact / death is a lousy disappearing act’’).
Absence makes the heart grow fonder...
McAloon plays every instrument on the album himself, and unlike the latter song’s protagonist, there is nothing tired about this old act. The music never feels forced, indeed everything McAloon does here feels so natural you almost forget that it’s him recording track by track and not a live band you are listening to. Crimson/Red is a testament to the enduring songwriting talent of one of our best lyricists and after a long, self-imposed hiatus, the new Prefab Sprout record is a reminder to all that there is still an irreplaceable value in the craft and artistry of writing a song.
Welcome back Paddy, don’t leave it so long next time.
Crimson/Red is available in store and to download now.