“The Man, the Myth, the Music”
Who is the most audacious music thief in the world? Who steals the most coveted gems? [Original Swedish Text]
Maybe it’s Paddy McAloon, the leader of Prefab Sprout. Or maybe it’s just a misunderstanding.
Many people like to use musical terms as metaphors for something else. Paddy McAloon is no exception, but in the opening track of the new album , he does exactly the opposite. “The Best Jewel Thief In The World” describes a brazen and dexterous robber who strikes when the guards’ vigilance is lax and dances across the rooftops with his bag of loot, enjoying his own notoriety.
In reality, the song isn’t about something as mundane and cheap as jewels; this is a song about Paddy McAloon’s music and his relationship with his muse; his motivations and his status as an artist. And the suspicion that the legendary artist is actually no more than a simple but calculating thief.
“I’ve also concluded that that interpretation is the most reasonable,” admits Paddy McAloon, “but that’s not how I wrote it. Originally it was a song about arrogance. That’s why the haughty villain is prancing around the rooftops.”
The new album “Crimson/Red” has been described as a companion piece to “Let’s Change the World With Music ” which was published in 2009 – the other, darker side.
“It could have been much darker, I had to counterbalance ‘Let’s Change the World With Music’ which was my highly idealised portrait of a religious idea of perfect God-given harmony. Those are not necessarily my personal perceptions, even though I was raised a Catholic, but I’m fascinated by the tremendous positive energy that is generated from such ideas. And this carried me away.”
The darkest track on the new album, but perhaps also the most humorous, is “The Devil Came A Calling” which is McAloon’s private slant on various well established myths, from how Jesus was tempted in the desert, via the Faustian myth to the story of bluesman Robert Johnson who, in return for musical virtuosity, sold his soul to the Devil.
In McAloon’s version, the Devil is characterized by the portrait of a likeable gentleman – sheer charm and charisma, not a stick of sulphur in sight – who as the price of his soul offers the narrator (“Patrick”) all conceivable gifts and blessings, but also warns that the privileges are time-limited. In the last verse, when the party is over, the devil comes back to collect.
It’s a song that invites fans to look for clues to meaning in McAloon’s own biography.
“Yes! And that amuses me enormously,” he says excitedly. “The song gives the impression of a myth, but it also gives details and hints of extreme decadence that might make people think I’ve lived through part of it. I see the image of Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles in front of me.”
Paddy McAloon was perhaps never prone to the excesses or man’s more amoral pleasures, but during the glory years of the 1980s – when he was tipped to be larger than (if not Jesus) Morrissey – he spent some happy days in pop music’s brightest spotlight. Fast-forward to the late 1990s, and the contrast is huge. McAloon suffered a complex eye disease: the prognosis was that he would be completely blind. He has severe tinnitus and aggressive eczema.
Everything has hinged on his ability to create and listen to music, and probably also on his inability to complete his projects; his catalogue of unfinished works is legendary. His epic world-history “Earth : The Story So Far” is the most especially ambitious, but not untypical. It’s certainly true that the music industry is different from when Prefab Sprout created their luxurious pop productions during the last century.
Nowadays McAloon works alone – the band name is a chimera – and involved co-producer Calum Malcolm when it was time to mix the new album. In practice this is a Do-It-Yourself – album, but in aesthetics is no DIY; Paddy McAloon is not one to cobble together offerings which sound careless or low budget, but rather makes music with sufficient finish to match the songs’ sophisticated chord structures and elaborate lyrics.
“In the past it was impossible to make records cheaply and make them sound good, but that’s not true anymore. The technology has advanced, with modern equipment, you can avoid the pitfalls. But it’s not just budgetary reasons that make me want to work alone. Since I have a hearing problem, I work slowly, and I don’t want impatient professional musicians around me. I sit alone in my studio, I can discover and redefine things while I work, and I don’t have to take the time to explain what I’m doing.”
The recordings were made last year, but the two oldest songs were written in 1997. They might very well have stayed lying in the vaults a few more years .
“The truth is that I overran the deadline with another project. The record company reminded me that I’d promised them an album, so I put this together from what I had around me, under pressure. Is it not noticeable? Good. I’ve come up with some tricks to conceal my anxiety.”
He says he’s not surprised at how well the album has been received; they are good songs. However, he fears fans may be more reticent next time.
“But at the same time, I have no idea what I’ll release when that day comes. I work in explosive bursts of enthusiasm, but they never last longer than twelve weeks. I won’t be ready at the end of that period, so I put everything back on the shelf and devote myself to something else.”