Seven years have passed since between the exquisite “Jordan: the Comeback” and “Andromeda Heights”, the new Prefab Sprout album. Paddy McAloon has been busy working simultaneously on a number of albums, most of which will be future Prefab Sprout recordings, and several songs for the successful stars Jimmy Nail, Cher and Kylie Minogue. He has also been building his own studio and learning to overcome the drawbacks of working for a multinational. In any case “Andromeda Heights” confirms the brilliance and elegance of a timeless pop sensibility.
Why have seven years passed without any sign of life from Prefab Sprout?
I’ve been busy writing songs. If there haven’t been any records it’s partly because my compositional method is slow. I like to write a lot of songs around a single theme, Christmas for example.
And how do you make a living if you’re not releasing new records?
I’m always busy with different projects. Jimmy Nail asked me to write some songs for his series “Crocodile Shoes”, so in February 94 I put to one side a Prefab Sprout project I was working on, a concept album about the history of the world called “Earth, the Story So Far”.
What does the rest of the group and the record label think of that?
Since the release of “Jordan”, I’ve come to accept certain realities. This is the reality the record company and everyone else has understood since Edison made his first album on wax cylinders. Money talks. Records cost money if you want to do them in the way you would like. You have to justify the costs, and your records have to earn enough to cover the cost of production. So I put “Earth”, a very ambitious album, aside, having decided I wasn’t prepared to deal with the arguments there would certainly be when I tried to make it.
Is there no way that an artist can negotiate on equal terms with the record label?
For that you have to be practical, and how what you do might seem hostile from the perspective of a hypothetical lawyer at Sony. When you start a project, the first thing to consider is how to finance it, and when you have the means to do that it leaves less room for the lawyers to muddle your plans. Thinking like that saves a lot of disappointments. Not that the record companies are ogres, but they can’t see a clearing in the woods without wanting to shit in it.
“Andromeda Heights” is a cosmic record…
It uses space as a metaphor. Space can be anything, a cold and infinite place, a fun place, an image of loss from a purely emotional point of view. I think “Andromeda” is a very romantic album, although I confess I think I’m too old to sing love songs.
And do you care about that?
Well, I think that after a certain point is difficult to sing certain kinds of love song. Your credibility suffers if you sing songs where someone is marvelling at another. And it might sound false.
re you worried that the passage of time will affect your importance in the world of pop music?
What you really want to ask, but you’re too polite to do so, is whether we’re still relevant. It’s a strange kind of question to ask, it’s contrary to your kind words about the record.
I meant that you’re not paying tribute to dance music in your structural sensibility. It’s different, there’s a clear connection to the old school, Walker Brothers and Phil Spector.
I’ve always felt pop music should be able to express sentiments that are no longer teenage. And there’s nothing new about that. “What’s Goin’ On” by Marvin Gaye is revered for these reasons.
When you speak about music and your plans, you do it in the first person. Is Prefab Sprout no longer a band?
Guilty as charged, your honour. Guilty of being disinterested in bands. The important thing is the piece of music you’re trying to record. I don’t think Martin and Wendy are disappointed we’re not doing an 18 month tour. And being in a group is a precarious job.
Why this reluctance to go on tour?
Playing live is strange. The travel, soundchecks, rehearsals and ego gratification quickly make you forget that the reason you’re there in the first place is because people like your records. Not that it’s difficult, but it has nothing to do with writing songs or recording records. You have to choose between being a human jukebox, or using the time to conceive new albums. I’d have love to have seen Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys in 1965. “California Girls” and “Please Let Me Wonder” were fantastic, but I’m glad Brian stayed at home to write “Pet Sounds”.
Thomas Dolby is your usual producer, but you produced “Andromeda Heights” yourself.
Thomas was busy trying to establish his own company. Prefab Sprout discs are rarely recorded quickly so I can understand his reluctance to get involved with the project. He encouraged me to produce it myself, and I also felt comfortable being in the hands of an engineer like Calum Malcolm. I admire his work with the Blue Nile and I wanted someone like him, who’s not worried about fashion, someone who could help us make something timeless. And you can’t get that if you’re a slave to the latest sounds and technology.
Do you regret now calling the group Prefab Sprout?
I could have made my life easier, but I chose it when I was a kid. From the magic of words, you know, those bands with mysterious names, Grateful Dead, Grand Funk Railroad …