Now Shamelessly Sentimental
In these times of The Divine Comedy or My Life Story, the appearance of the latest Prefab Sprout album is most appropriate. Andromeda Heights is maybe less sensational and vital, less juvenile, than Neil Hannon’s and Jake Shillingford’s songs but it shares their taste for beauty.
Paddy McAloon isn’t planning a tour to promote this album, and admits that the drummer in the band, Neil Conti, left because the group now exists in reality only in the studio. So Conti wasn’t able to earn a living between album recording sessions. Considering the fact that Andromeda Heights has been released seven years after the preceding album, you can understand why Conti took the opportunity of making an amicable escape.
McAloon is a pop craftsman and artisan, the heart and brain of Prefab Sprout. Andromeda Heights is a collection of twelve songs that share the common themes of “the stars and love.”
It’s hardly a novelty if we say that McAloon is a great composer of pop delicacies, sweet and seductively decorated melodies. But he is 40 years old now and he wants to take new challenges. He has outgrown common pop. The Andromeda Heights Orchestra helps him realise his delusions of grandeur. After a stroke of luck that emancipated him, financially speaking, McAloon made the album he wanted, when he wanted and the way he wanted it: at his own studio (christenedAndromeda Heights) at his own pace (it took him two years) and in the confinement and isolation that makes some geniuses walk that fine line separating ambition from mere pretentiousness.
I feel that you have outgrown pop.
That’s an elegant expression… I love pop music, but I like the idea of building from the past. I can’t keep getting excited about three chords played at full volume. I need to evolve. I admit openly that what I do is more complicated with regard to arrangements, and that they are shamelessly sentimental songs. Yes: I’m talking about maturity, that horrible concept that sounds like a nightmare when applied to pop, because it seems like pop cannot be mature. Therefore, to me, that is the challenge: I’m 40 years old and I want to write songs that move people.
And has it taken you seven years to realize that?
I hope that all the work I’ve been doing these past years will be released someday. The delay of Andromeda Heights hasn’t been an issue of me starting projects and feeling unhappy with them or being unable to finish them. I was working on the ambitious future album Earth The Story So Far for a long time, and I’ve already completed it, but when I had to deal with the arrangements I was saturated, and one day I said to myself: “What an ambitious project…but you are killing yourself!” And as there was nothing that was forcing me to release Earth the Story So Far as Prefab Sprout’s next album, I decided to do something more fun and less arduous for me.
You were able to do it because you had previously secured yourself financially.
Yes, true, I was lucky because when I was most depressed, in January 1994, Jimmy Nail called me to ask if I would write songs for his series on BBC1. It sold a lot of albums, and that helped me enormously financially. I was still working on Earth...but I decided to set the project aside and do Andromeda Heights.
You need to conceptualize the themes of your albums?
Do you know why? For fear of not having new ideas. If today I write a song called Walking in Barcelona, tomorrow I will have to write a different one, maybe Flying to the moon. And that scares me. I prefer to work within a general theme. Besides, some of my most powerful records are thematic albums. But I’m not talking about the horrors of “concept albums”, even though it might seem so.
They are dangerous, concept albums…
A danger we have suffered historically. I try to write about themes because as a method, they allow me to create a very focused state of mind.
What do you think of the concept of the “pop-opera”?
Phew! It worries me. Many of the projects that I want to do approach that idea, but it’s dangerous, it’s a minefield. You must tread carefully.
Do you think that the concept of thematic albums is influenced by cinematographic narrative?
Probably. Sometimes , when I write songs, I think that if I was a film director people could understand better what I’m doing: I explain a story, I introduce songs that often feature characters. Maybe people think that it is all autobiographical, but it isn’t: it is just a forgiveable licence I allow myself. I don’t write autobiographically, but like a novelist or a film director. Films have always been a big influence for me.
I have the feeling that it must be difficult for you to find new bands that inspire you.
Exactly. I have a journalist’s heart: If I listen to a band I can think that they are not bad, but if somebody asks me what I think, to be honest I must say that I don’t like them. But I avoid criticizing anybody who makes music.
Thanks to Roz for the article and translation from Catelan.