About two and a half years after “From Langley Park to Memphis”, Prefab Sprout have returned to us. In their latest work, “Jordan: the Comeback”, this time entirely produced by Thomas Dolby, this brilliant masterpiece of 19 songs over more than an hour is a breathtaking progression. The work has hooked me completely. It has a beautiful flow, it’s lyrical, it has immense depth. The more I listen to it, the more I love it.
One day in mid-August, just before the release of the album, we interviewed group leader and vocalist Paddy McAloon, who writes the songs. Paddy had travelled down from Newcastle on the morning of the same day, and had a slight beard, which oddly enough seemed to add more layers to his personality, made him seem even more friendly.
– I’ve been listening to the new album, it’s a very interesting record. It’s a long work of more than an hour, 19 tracks divided into four sections.
PM: Yeah. There are several reasons for that. First of all I though that the many songs I’d written for this work could be divided into bunches. I split it into four sections. I think each section has a different atmosphere. And anyway, I wanted to do something a little different.
– What is the concept behind each of the four sections?
PM: Section 1 is the five songs from “Looking For Atlantis” to “Carnival 2000”. These are general songs, I didn’t have any particular theme I was conscious of. The songs in this section are individual songs. Section 2 is the next four songs from “Jordan: the Comeback” to “Moondog”, in this section I wanted to write songs sympathising and feeling pity for someone. I thought that would be interesting, in the way a movie is. For example I could imagine going to see a movie this afternoon, and if it was a story that Elvis Presley is still alive and living in the desert like Howard Hughes, I think that would be an interesting subject. I thought it would be interesting to sing about how human beings should be compassionate, and to be compassionate you must have a merciful heart.
– Yes, it’s a very interesting subject.
PM: I want people to listen to this work over and over again. Because I put a lot of different things into it. I’ve often explained the theme of the second section to people, to everyone, but then I wonder if from time to time if I’m explaining too many things. That thought comes to mind. It feels like being a schoolteacher (laughs). If you’re the student maybe you’ll decide “I should buy Madonna’s album instead of this one!” (laughs). It might be a complicated theme, but I think the basic ideas are enjoyable too.
– Even so, it seems that there is something spiritual behind those songs ….
PM: I agree. If God or the Spirit of the Universe exist, what do you think they are saying to us? It seems that religious songs are never humorous, but for example isn’t a subject like whether angels sent by a woman could bring a devil to heaven interesting? God is benevolent, would God be willing to forgive the devil? When I was writing songs like this, this was the spiritual thought I was trying to convey.
– You’re a Christian, do you think there is something in common between this sort of spirituality and Christianity?
PM: I am. I believe in God, but sometimes you ask yourself: “do I truly believe?” It’s hard to believe in God. And even if you believe in God you may not believe all if it, but that doesn’t matter. It’s part of the spiritual dimension in all people that they believe. I think the message of Christianity is more wonderful than what is usually expressed, it is: “I will love humanity”, and it’s an ideal. What it is… I mean I don’t think you have to force it on people. On this album I wrote a song from the viewpoint of a philanthropist who thinks equally highly of humanity. Perhaps for people who don’t believe in God it’s a song that’s tinged with religion. But there’s still something meaningful in the music.
– Then in section 4, we have the theme of God and death.
PM: It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time. It’s a very big theme.
– When writing songs, do words come naturally to you?
PM: It’s a good question. When you begin to write, the best things are when words come flowing one after another. At the beginning I start with inspiration and then I’ll explore how to express it… I like working this way. Sometimes there’s only an idea and I sit down and write about it slowly. Or there can be just a single word which I gradually breathe life around. Sometimes there is a flood. But the best things are always born from happy coincidences.
– When I listen to your music I feel there’s a greater power that pushes you to make music, but the band supporting such a feeling is amazing too.
PM: Great! I don’t know what it is, but when I’m writing something it feels like it’s what I’m meant to do. It’s like discovering something, why did I write this, what is this song? I haven’t written any songs for the last 2 months, but that’s a very long gap for me. After finishing one piece of work I have a really empty feeling, I get worried about whether I can write more songs in the future. I think songwriters have to open their minds, to clear them. As a rule I usually start writing the next song before I finish the last one so I guess I’ll always be writing something.
– Although you worked with several producers on your previous work, this time it was produced entirely by Thomas Dolby?
PM: There are a couple of reasons for that – I’d wondered what would happen if I used different producers for my previous album. But it takes time to meet someone and get to know each other. After finishing one song if felt like the person was just moving on as you were getting to know them. Thomas gave me his opinions firmly and dealt with my songs carefully more than anything else. He also supported me 100% of the time this time, and I had confidence in him.
During the interview, Paddy said many times “I’m really happy that this album is a good piece of work, I’m very pleased with it. It was gratifying to be looking at someone who seemed satisfied. “The more I love music, the more I worry that I’m too optimistic. Given my age, the only thing I’ll end up with is a stack of records. But I’m very proud of the work I’ve done.”
Having said that, Paddy gave a big grin. The new work must undoubtedly give Paddy a special source of pride.