Paddy McAloon and his band Prefab Sprout has, since their debut album Swoon, 1984, been the subject of an almost universal worship. Music commentators worldwide, predominately male, have all had tears in their eyes and have become very sentimental before Paddy’s subtle reflections.
The first album in seven years, Andromeda Heights, has been met by the customary chorus of tributes, and has once again induced grown men such as Måns Ivarsson, Andres Lokko and Clemens Poellinger to write in the most sensitive terms with the finest superlatives. Fully justified, it must be said.
Personally I’ve thought the chorus of praise stood in the way. Sure, I know the older songs like When Love Breaks Down, The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Cars & Girls, All the World Loves Lovers or The Sound of Crying had extraordinarily fine melodies, but at the same time I felt a resistance to producer Thomas Dolby’s rigid Eighties digital production.
But faced with Andromeda Heights, I also must surrender. The synthesisers are, for the most part, tastefully in the background, and Paddy McAloon has written a suite of songs that actually rank with champions such as Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach. Absolutely wonderful, indeed.
So when on a sunny and warm Spring day I get the opportunity to meet the affable Paddy McAloon, I’m pleased to note he has both humour and shows a detachment to both his music and himself.
Far from being the sentimental and romantic introvert he is depicted as, he speaks with good humour, enthusiasm, and in a unique flood of words.
Likewise, he even brings his well known Christian faith down to Earth, not by denying in but in honestly reporting his doubts. “I don’t even know if I’m agnostic,” he laughs. On this subject he also takes the opportunity to correct the misconception he was a student of theology. “I wasn’t studying to become a priest, it was jus my education.”
The only thing that makes the soon to be 40 year old Paddy look like a pop star is his black outfit. When asked if he sees himself as such, his answer is that he doesn’t feel like a Michael Jackson or a Madonna. “I don’t choose to do anything that disturbs my writing,” he explains, and tells me how he is doing several different song and album projects simultaneously. And how reworks his songs indefinitely.
One of his completed projects is a collection of Christmas songs, another deals with the history of mankind; Earth: The Story So Far. Paddy tells how it is based on the Creation, Adam and Eve, and ends with the first moon landing.
Personally, I think it sounds like it would make a great musical, but Paddy is sceptical. “I’m a little nervous about the conventions of the musical, I’d rather make a film out of it.”
When the Earth: The Story So Far will be released on CD is unclear. Before that, he wants to make a simpler record, not so ambitious as Andromeda Heights.
I wonder if he is not afraid that all the music gathering dust at home in Newcastle must be becoming dated and obsolete. “More the lyrics than the music. I work in a rather timeless pop tradition. But yes, I’m a little concerned about it.”
When I point out that his work reminds me of how a painter can create multiple images at once, he agrees completely and contributes further parallels; how both the visual arts and music works in shade and textures and how he can add colour to his music.
Given that Prefab Sprout has become so acclaimed musically – and also sold consistently well – I wonder if he cares whether the public like his music. Paddy screws his face up, slightly embarrassed, and admits, laughing; “Absolutely, I care too much.”
If feels good to hear such things. Here we have a guy that is actually quite brilliant in his field but who still seems completely open-minded and refreshingly unpretentious. Paddy tells it like it is, without trying to complicate things to appear more interesting than he is.
Like many other artists, he never listens to his old records. Only if he participates in a radio programme and they play something. “I’m afraid they will be better than my new songs,” he laughs.
He’s taking the approach of his 40th birthday quietly. It was worse reaching 30. “Today I’m more grounded, rooted in myself,” he says, adding that it’s difficult to live in the moment and appreciate your time here on Earth.
When Paddy McAloon writes lines like “Life’s a miracle, we gotta do our best / before it’s time to rest” one becomes painfully aware that we do not live forever and that things rarely happen as expected. “I also think life is really difficult, that’s why I wrote it.”