Prefab Sprout's I Trawl The Megahertz: What You Need To Know
Of the many weird and wonderful pop groups that emerged throughout the 1980s, few were as difficult to categorise as Prefab Sprout. Revolving around the idiosyncratic songwriting talents of frontman Paddy McAloon, the band released a string of quirky but finely crafted songs during their first decade and while they scored their fair share of Top 40 hits – especially with songs like 'The King of Rock 'n' Roll' – their commercial success was often outweighed by the adulation they enjoyed from critics and fans, who recognised McAloon as one of the country's most unique songwriters.
The various members of the band have gradually peeled away over the years and since around 2010, when McAloon's bass-playing brother Martin finally departed, Prefab Sprout has basically become a Paddy McAloon solo project. The one Prefab Sprout album that has arrived since, 2013's Crimson/Red, was the result of a contractual obligation to his record label, but also showed that McAloon's knack for vivid lyrical imagery hasn't deserted him. Despite a sparse list of releases in recent years, however, McAloon is known to be a prolific writer and is rumoured to be sitting a vast trove of unreleased material he was written over the last three decades or so.
He has also earned a reputation as something of a recluse, rarely making public appearances or giving interviews, and hasn't performed live for years, all of which is largely the result of a series of health problems which have severely affected not only his eyesight but also - catastrophically for a musician - his hearing.
However, in recent months McAloon has begun to emerge once again from the shadows and in December he gave a rare interview on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, revealing that he has been working with Spike Lee and his brother Cinque on a new film by the younger Lee brother based around McAloon's songs, as well as teasing a track from a forthcoming album called Femmes Mythologiques, which McAloon says he is aiming to release in September this year (although on previous form, you can probably add at least another year onto that projection).
Before all that, however, is this week's re-release of I Trawl The Megahertz, McAloon's one and only solo album, originally released in 2003. The album has been remastered and repackaged as a fully-fledged Prefab Sprout album and makes its arrival in stores today. Here's everything you need to know about it...
A little background...
In 1999, at the age of just 42, Paddy began to struggle with his eyesight and was soon diagnosed with detached retinas – first in one eye, then the other. Timely surgery prevented him from going completely blind, but the years and months following his diagnosis and treatment left him largely housebound and unable to do much of anything. Frustrated at not being able to write in his usual way, he passed the time by listening to – and recording – lots of different radio shows, from late-night phone-ins to military encryptions: ”You name it, I was eavesdropping on it”, he states in the album's liner notes.
Gradually he began to cut up these recordings and rearrange the fragments to form new narratives. When he was unable to find all the parts he needed, McAloon decided to fill in the blanks by writing and recording his own spoken word sections and fragments of poetry. After composing a series of pieces to underscore these, he then took the framework he had constructed into a proper studio to add orchestral parts to the recordings.
Who's producing it?
McAloon has mostly produced the album himself, although he did have some help with recording and arranging the orchestral parts from
Any special guests?
Only if you count London-based American stockbroker Yvonne Connors, who became the somewhat unlikely voice of the record after McAloon decided that the spoken word sections would work best with a female, American voice. McAloon recruited Connors via a friend of his wife, recording her parts in a Kensington hotel room. Other than that, it's all Paddy by himself here.
What does it sound like?
What it doesn't sound like is a Prefab Sprout record. Part of the reason McAloon originally released the album under his own name was because he didn't want to disappoint Sprout fans, who would likely expect something very different. Best enjoyed as one long piece of music (the opening 'track' is 22 minutes long), I Trawl The Megahertz has more in common with the music of McAloon's favourite composers Ravel and Debussy than it does with anything his band released during their 1980s heyday. Lush orchestral flourishes rise and fall, occasionally giving way to mellow, jazz-infused interludes, all underpinned by a spoken word narrative that manages to be both soothing and, in places, achingly sad. By the time McAloon finally sings, roughly two-thirds of the way through the album, it comes as a bit of a shock.
Does it deliver?
If you're looking for the kind of quirky, literate pop songs Prefab Sprout are famed for, you won't find any of them here, but taken on its own merit I Trawl The Megahertz really is a beautiful piece of work that was sorely overlooked on its initial release, and one that thoroughly deserves re-examination.