The British pop foursome have gone from slightly fey to confident and uptempo. Songwriter Paddy Macaloon talks to DAVID STUBBS
Paddy Macaloon looks rather dapper in his red polka-dot tie. And his hair which until recently was longer and more shapeless has been pruned and shaped.
“I get bored easily,” says the songwriter of the foursome Prefab Sprout whose album Steve McQueen – sculpted, elaborate melodies and achingly beautiful chord changes – was probably the finest British album of 1985.
Prefab Sprout – made up also of his girlfriend Wendy Smith, his brother Martin, and Neil Conti – is one of the few successful pop acts working in “soft” pop tones.
Songwriter Macaloon exudes an appropriate feeling of doubt, but in his lyrics and in the surfaces of his sound. But his melancholy is certainly not twee or self-pitying.
His lyrics are dense because as a songwriter he is at pains to avoid clichés. He drenches his work with a wealth of cultural references, but keeps a distance by perceiving them as being of the past.
In ths sense, Prefab Sprout is profoundly nostalgic. None of your fatuous, headbanging now-ness. Macaloon knows that “nothing sounds as good as ‘I Remember That'”. But after Steve McQueen, he thought: “I’d lighten up a bit.” He wrote The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Cars and Girls in the new album From Langley Park to Memphis in early 1985.
They were a reaction to the idea people have of his work being very precise and delicate. “I thought people are going to be surprised by this. How will they react to me having a bit of fun? Will they think it’s a bit like Julie Andrews taking her bra off in S.O.B.?”
Certain the two tracks that open the album show a new side to the Sprouts – confident, up tempo and not afraid to poke fun. “I don’t think people understand my sense of humour sometimes” he worries.
“I laugh more times than I cry about things. I don’t think I’ve ever written a song that isn’t playful somewhere along the line. I think my problem’s been in the execution.
“We’re not self-conscious arty types. I don’t even carry a notebook around with me, honest. I’ve done all that, I’ve been through it very early on – yet in some respects I’ve been categorised as that. So I intended to write a different kind of record.”
“I don’t like introspective song-writing at all. A song’s just a point of view, you know. I just try and be consistent, even if it isn’t how I necessarily feel. Yet, I could believe in every one of the songs I sing.”
Don’t you ever feel disenchanted at the charts in 1988 and see so few “allies” who produce your kind of music?
“This isn’t meant to sound snobbish, but I’ve never felt a part of any community of like-minded spirits. I don’t even buy records like my own, I don’t go out and look for like-minded people and I’ve never found anyone on the planet who fits the bill. I like music that’s painted in broad strokes, lots of primary colours and musicals are very often like that.”
Is a tour in the pipeline? Paddy shakes his head. “I want to spend this next year trying to write a great film score and I know that if I go on the road I’ll just end up writing in the same way as everyone else.”