Brits Broaden Appeal With 3rd Album – Prefab Sprout Takes Root
LOS ANGELES “I wanted to make a record that sounds like no other record you’ll hear this year — because it comes from no other place,” says Prefab Sprout leader Paddy McAloon of his group’s latest Epic album, “From Langley Park To Memphis.”
And with its 10 stylistically divergent tracks and a multiple musical cast including Stevie Wonder, Pete Townshend, and the Andrae Crouch Gospel Singers, Prefab Sprout’s third album may sound too unusual to U.S. ears.
Though the album reached top five status in the group’s U.K. homeland and sold over half a million copies in Europe during its first 10 weeks of release, it has yet to work similar magic upon U.S. listeners. Since its April 20 release here, in fact, both of the tracks Epic has offered radio — “The Golden Calf,” aimed at album-rock stations, and “Cars And Girls,” the sole commercial 7-inch single — have enjoyed limited success at best.
The irony, as McAloon sees it, is that the album has been viewed in some U.K. circles as being Prefab’s “American” album. With a lyrical reference to “Brucie” Springsteen on “Cars And Girls” and with such other cuts as “The King Of Rock’N’Roll” and “Hey Manhattan,” he says, “It’s my fault. All the clues point toward it, with the American titles. They think it’s about America, and therefore the implication is Prefab Sprout wants to crack America.
“And I have to tell everyone in Europe we don’t sell records here, really — pitiful records for a band on their third album. And you don’t crack America by raising any kind of controversy about Bruce Springsteen or tackling Manhattan when you don’t live there.”
In fact, he adds, if he’d really wanted to record an “American” album, he would have asked someone like Russ Titelman to produce it. As it stands, the 10 cuts on “From Langley Park To Memphis” are produced by McAloon, both by himself and with Jon Kelly or Andy Richards and Thomas Dolby. McAloon initially planned to use 10 different producers, he explains, but ultimately deemed that a logistical impossibility.
The partial return to Dolby, who in 1985 produced Prefab’s previous album (dubbed “Two Wheels Good” in the U.S., “Steve McQueen” elsewhere) and who McAloon deems “brilliant,” came as a surprise to fans of the band who’d been watching. Scattered reports in the U.K. press at the time had it that the universal acclaim garnered by that second Prefab album — which was lavishly produced by Dolby — was going to result in a quickly issued, scantily produced follow-up album dubbed “Protest Songs.”
“It didn’t happen,” says McAloon, “because CBS didn’t want to make us another record. They said if we released another one that year, sales forces across the world will stop working ‘Two Wheels Good’ and go to the new record.” And unlike Prince and his “black” album controversy, says McAloon, “our stature in the music business is not big enough to allow us to do those sort of arrogant things.”
Thus, instead of a rootsy successor to “Two Wheels Good,” Prefab’s “From Langley Park To Memphis” echoes — at least in terms of production style and scope — its predecessor. Scattered critical accusations that the band has opted for slickness irk McAloon, who sees the new set as being “even more out there somewhere.”
“I’ve never written a better bunch of songs than this one,” adds McAloon. “I know that for a fact. I think the songs on it are my favorites.
“And as for the texture of it, that’s something that, you know… ” He pauses. “Rock fans don’t have very broad horizons.”
(With thanks to Christophe C for finding this article)