OK, Paddy McAloon is one of the most brilliant writers in British Pop. However “From Langley Park To Memphis” doesn’t hold a candle to masterpieces like “Swoon” and “Steve McQueen”. It’s a refined and sometimes pleasing album but it seems that the band are experiencing unexpected fatigue …
Paddy McAloon is smarter than he looks. I’ve never been to his house, but I’m sure he has a book somewhere,a hidden in the pages of which are his acerbic personal views of how the world works so he can throw them up on demand. I know Michael Jackson amuses him and – Boom! – inspires him. I know Springsteen bores him and makes him neurotic. But it’s a form of neurosis that Paddy has to exorcise by not becoming entangled in the lifestyle implied by the image of the Boss. So he wrote “Cars and Girls”, a short, sharp undermining of the idea of Bruce. And now he hates him… “I hope so,” he says, “even if it’s a risky thing to say. It’s a critique of things everyone knows are stupid. The car, the blonde, and speeding on a Californian highway. ‘Cars and Girls’ is an attack on the images of Bruce’s life, he’s seen as the epitome of the American rocker. The contradiction I find positive in Bruce is that despite the urban language, its lyrical images are very romantic. Springsteen is very close to the kind of romanticism of us Brits. Despite the attack, I’m convinced that Bruce is a complicated guy, I mean everybody knows that he doesn’t believe in that kind of life many of his pieces describe. Another thing: Springsteen is often identified as a worker, the working man of his songs. I’m sure that if you want a serious reputation today it’s very important to approach from this direction, but I’m a contrarian and think these are clichés, even if they’re different clichés from the idea of the car and the blonde girl, it’s a mirror image. We’ll have to differ on the idea of gaining credibility by the exaltation of the working class. I can agree that Springsteen may be an honest guy, a good guy, but I don’t find his music very exciting. ”.
So let’s dismantle Paddy’s ideas. I don’t like anyone attacking Springsteen. Firstly, Springsteen talks of worker’s lives because this is part of the wealth of personal experiences he has. Secondly, Springsteen is brave, because to open an album such as “Tunnel of Love” by mirroring the incandescent “Born in the USA” with a dramatic demystification of his life such as “Ain’t Got You” is uncommon. Thirdly: Springsteen’s protagonists are desperate heroes who are almost always hopeless, they have lost the thread of a highway they can’t escape because they don’t know where to go. Fourth: Paddy McAloon reveals an attitude of superiority typical of a stupid and reactionary England. I’ll defend him, though, even if in the Sprout attack on Springsteen he wanted to include a comprehensive attack on all those rockers who adopt a vision of Rock’n’Roll lifestyle due to a similar misreading of the Boss’ lyrics that are actually about something else. I also believe that everyone chooses their own strengths and flaws. And the new Prefab Sprout certainly have the advantage of being more immediate than in the past but in another sense have lost that hardness that differentiated them in the days of “Swoon ” and took me repeatedly to an import record shop in Rome for two months in Italy because everyone thought I had confused them with a brand of frozen Indian meal and that I’d dreamed their name.
Paddy says: “From Langley Park To Memphis’ is a simple disk. Immediate. This simplicity is reflected in the lyrics. I think that none of the songs on the album has a florid style, so to speak. I tried to include lines that recall the words that two normal people would say to each other, lines people would speak. Sometimes I lose my confidence. I’d like to have a more conscious and deeper relationship with language but I know on the other hand that if my writing is accessible I can reach more people …”
But on this album he doesn’t dare to take risks, the desire for innovation remains frustrated… Morrissey, at least in this aspect, is proving to be a master.
Paddy: “I think every writer should write what he needs to communicate. Each in his own way, I have my ways. Regarding Morrissey I can’t deny he uses a kind of language that goes beyond the normal standard language of pop or rock. When I hear his records I laugh and I wonder how he can have all the success he has. I’m surprised the kids do not consider it too sparse and mad. I do agree with you he has his own style.”
“Sometimes,” he continues, “I feel the need to get rid of one of my songs. For example I don’t play ‘Here On The Eerie’ from ‘Swoon’ any more. I wanted to write a piece that commented ironically on pop groups who adopt particular attitudes constructed to engage the public when their music isn’t enough. I think I made a mess of it. I didn’t get the result I wanted. ”
Paddy McAloon is angry with rock ‘n’ roll. He can hardly digest any of it. Despite that hair and that angelic face he nurses a monster. He titled the album in an ironic reference to the Presley record “From Vegas To Memphis”. He has never been to Memphis but he put the city name alongside that of Langley Park, a squalid urban centre rebuilt on the ruins of an old mining town near Newcastle where Prefab Sprout originate. Memphis and everything that city evokes is in this way dramatically minimized. “My single ‘The King Of Rock’n’ Roll” is an ‘parody of rock stars as they get older and fatter … “.
And again: “If someone wants to inherit Presley’s sceptre, they have to do something completely different. The new Presley will be someone who will come from an artistic field that has nothing to do with music”.
But does Paddy McAloon have a place in history?
“One thing I can’t stand”, he goes on, “is going on tour. It’s not that I don’t like playing live, even though I actually prefer to spend my time in the studio recording, but it’s that I hate the routine of it. I hate the idea of hotel, bar, meet and greet”, the rock circus atmosphere. I want to make records that last forever. .. “.
Because you like Michael Jackson? I prefer Springsteen, he breathes and sweats…
“It’s the idea of Michael Jackson that inspires me a lot.”
At this point I felt a psychological twinge. Is Paddy McAloon is the same guy who made “Swoon” or there are two Paddys? He goes on: “before ‘Bad’ I had a lot of dreams. I imagined that he had the title of the album. I even invented a title. I was hoping it would be called ‘ The Flimsy World of Film.” And: “It was a disappointment when I learned that the title was ‘Bad’,. I thought he would have invented something more Disneyesque. I dreamed I met two of the Jacksons in the studio and one of them suddenly said that music was in need of a little ‘rollmo’ a touch of magic to create the piece. Michael Jackson, the idea of Michael Jackson to me is the most evocative that can exist. Michael Jackson is the imagination, he doesn’t fall into any category, you can’t suffocate him with a label. I like to think of Jackson or Springsteen as mythic figures, it gives more colour to life.”
From Langley Park To Memphis” is also in the Italian charts, in Britain it sold over 10,000 copies in the first month, becoming a gold disk extremely rapidly, faster than” Steve McQueen” (1985). Paddy isn’t complaining. And in fact no-one has ever heard him swearing.
Remember when “Swoon” was a gorgeous record and you were still children of the underground and didn’t even know Springsteen and Jackson existed?
“You can’t really talk of us as an underground band any more,” he smiles, “we sell too many records to be able to consider us as that sort of group. But certainly we’re different from most of the groups in the charts. I still feel personally enhanced by the ability to experiment. I’m trying to do two things at the same time. One thing is that I want to be simpler in the conception of the song, and the other thing is I want to be musically adventurous. So I used strings on some things. I’m not trying to become a big band Prefab Sprout. I just want to get an orchestrated and arranged sound. This’ll be the direction of forthcoming records.”
Meanwhile, CBS has in a release of the album “Protest Songs” in the works, aborted and then rehabilitated. “And this was one of the things I was most disappointed about, ” he said bitterly. “That record was supposed to be the counterweight to ‘Steve McQueen’ and be released at the same time. And “a disc fresh, funky, in the sense that it is fresh and lightly produced. It will be released soon.”
Paddy McAloon is diabolically pleasant and perhaps has teased me (you) throughout the interview. Oh, and by the way, the cover of “From Langley Park.” is horrible (this written criticism is faithfully recorded on the tape of the interview).
“I accept your criticism and I would say that most of the journalists think like you. I don’t agree; I think the photo is beautiful and perfectly matches the tone of the record. Simple and immediate… ”