The End Sounds Warm
The new Prefab Sprout album “Crimson/Red” is a great late work full of the strength of youth. Songwriter Paddy McAloon, almost a Pop ghost, granted a rare interview.
(This interview was also used for a radio broadcast)
The Conditions for producing new Prefab Sprout music were not ideal: Paddy McAloon was temporarily blind and has suffered for years from severe tinnitus.
He lives quietly in the northern English town of Durham and receives his interviewees with snow-white beard, floor length frock coat in the lobby of an old hotel. This reclusive pop invalid has dispensed with travel almost completely. That Paddy McAloon – the man held by many experts as maybe one of the best songwriters in the world – has reconnected with his audience is down to his new Prefab Sprout album “Crimson/Red”. It’s the first new music for twelve years and has received brilliant reviews across the board. But who is this man of the 80’s who was perhaps the greatest of his time and yet could be seen – though not in an artistic sense – to have failed?
Many people who work in the entertainment industry, believe that the success in their profession is to do with the preservation of a particular look. In pursuit of that, everything is permitted: toupee, botox, gastric band… Paddy McAloon, 56, never played this game. If you saw him on the street, you’d think him to be an eccentrically dressed Santa Claus, with his long white hair and magnificent beard, his tinted spectacles and clothes that seem straight off the set of “Downton Abbey”. That’s situated not far from here, but the TV series is set about 100 years ago.
On the other hand, if you look at Paddy McAloon on the cover of the Prefab Sprout album “Steve McQueen” from 1985, you would believe you were looking at another human being. In equal parts good looking, intelligent and slightly arrogant, a twenty-something in jeans and leather jacket, preparing to become just one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Anyone who knew anything about music, recognized that this record was more than just a very good pop album, and it is still to be found in many lists of the best albums of all time. It justified McAloon’s fame as a brilliant lyricist and melodic innovator who more than anyone else was able to pour into popular music the pain, noise and ambivalence of youth.
But perhaps McAloon was just not cut out to live a life as a pop star. Following “Steve McQueen” this Catholic son of Irish immigrants who still lived with his parents even during the days of hit singles refused to go on tour. It just didn’t suit him. The breaks between the – still brilliant – albums became longer and longer, and he increasingly suffered from health problems. McAloon , who lives near Durham with his wife and three daughters, aged between ten and 15 years, was temporarily blinded and suffered for years from severe tinnitus so bad that he couldn’t bear to listen to music let alone make it, and was unable even to be in the same room as his family.
Having considered the history of this outwardly strangely altered pop stars of the 80’s, we can move on to “Crimson/Red” and the conversation with this clever, very friendly man. “Yes,” he laughs, almost hysterical and boyish, “there’s the new album: actually mainly for legal reasons I was told that I owed someone a record So I wanted to make it quickly . . . With guitar and voice. However a few days in I noticed that it wasn’t interesting enough. So I began to build up layer by layer with other sounds and music, as I always do. Eventually this album came out of it.”
The gentle pressure of the record industry seems to not actually have harmed the reclusive songwriter. “Crimson/Red” is a great album with reflections on being young and growing older. McAloon , whose wonderful voice remains completely untouched by the drastic aging process of its physical container muses in songs like “The Old Magician” or “The Best Jewel Thief In The World” on the subject of failure and decay – but in an elegant and emotional poetry.
“Will I lose my ability to do what I’m doing?”, The songwriter summarizes the content of ” The Old Magician”. “Sooner or later we all must deal with limitations, the further our life progresses. Everybody loses their powers This is quite a melancholy theme I wanted to put into a song in a light, humorous manner: . . It’s about a magician, a stage persona with holes in his gloves and a worn hat. “
Also in “The Best Jewel Thief In The World”, which would drive the audience of every mainstream Pop radio station to merry ecstasy, he addresses aging and his struggle with his art.” The song is about an artist who has to convince himself that he is the best at what he does. “When I write a song, I look often at a blank sheet of paper and I wonder how I can even start, but when I’ve finished a song, I often feel totally euphoric, yes, even megalomaniac. I was cowardly, and then rather arrogant at the same time. The song is drawn from this strange ambivalence.”
In fact you wish Paddy McAloon would let his habitual euphoria gain the upper hand, as he has several finished albums on his shelves but is too much of a perfectionist to release them. But the fact is he did find it somewhat easier to once again release music. He stresses he is willing: “Yes, I’ve made up my mind to work faster and be faster to make up my mind. I hope that something new is coming soon.”
Supposedly, this eccentric and self effacing musician has enough material for several Christmas albums in his drawers. Anyone familiar with the almost hymn-like quality of songs on Prefab Sprout albums such as “Jordan: The Comeback” or “Andromeda Heights”, or the wonderful, gospel-like declarations on McAloon’s last release, “Let’s Change the World With Music” would die in a state of universal bliss at the idea of a McAloon Christmas Album. The only problem is that this Santa Claus from Durham promised to come back soon with new music at the release of each of his last albums, but was then to disappear for many years.