“From Langley Park to Memphis” is the title of the third album from this English four-piece. The record, sonically soft and engaging, is constructed from little stories of everyday life that leave plenty of room for stars, and stripes. “I don’t know the reality of the United States,” says Paddy McAloon, the singer and guitarist in the lineup, “but I’m convinced that today the best opportunities for an artist are mostly overseas.”
Specialists in sweetness. For Prefab Sprout, the creation of a beautiful atmosphere is child’s play, giving birth to pastel coloured sounds that seem to be brought forth from an Eden of childhood memories.
The third album from the English four-piece (following “Swoon”, 1984, and “Steve McQueen”, 1985), “From Langley Park to Memphis” is a masterclass in musical enchantment. In short, Prefab Sprout are the vanguard of “sophisticated” pop.
The band comprises Paddy McAloon (voice and guitar), assisted by his brother Martin (bass), ethereal Wendy Smith (voice) and drummer Neil Conti. Paddy is an elegant and helpful thirty-year-old with an intellectual air. He composes all Prefab Sprout’s songs, small stories of daily life steeped in the atmosphere of the English provinces, and which in the case of “From Langley Park to Memphis”, dream of day to day life in America. But let’s leave it to McAloon to explain it to us.
“Langley Park is the name of a tiny village near Durham, the town where I was born and where I still live. These are humble places, but ever since I was little they provided me with a sense of protection. I learned to live in a world made up from a small number of inhabitants, and it was only by reflection I could imagine that the world is also made up of decaying metropolis. I began to think of the United States as the archetype of greatness and the ‘American dream’. I still carry that image. I don’t know the reality of the U.S.A, but I’m convinced it’s where you find the best opportunities, and where you can make the most of your talent. It was in America where rock’n’roll was born, and I wanted to put Memphis in the album title because it was the city that gave birth to Elvis Presley.”
Do you think Rock’n’roll is as important today as it was in the 50s and 60s?
“It certainly no longer has the social weight and the disruptive power that was manifested in the ’50s with Presley or Marlon Brando’s films, and in the ’60s with the Beatles and the Stones. Rock today is synonymous with fashion, overlapping trends that don’t last very long. It no longer engenders mass change or creates ideologies.”
How important is ‘America’ to your music?
“Undoubtedly very important. There is our love for the great composers such as George Gershwin and Cole Porter, and also for Burt Bacharach, an unfairly under-estimated songwriter.”
At this point a correction is required. Paddy is perhaps exaggerating a little, since Bacharach is one of the best appreciated composers of light music, and has written hits such as “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “What’s New, Pussycat.”
What are the differences between “Swoon”, “Steve McQueen” and “From Langley Park to Memphis”?
“‘Swoon’ was our most energetic album and somehow brought a sheen of punk to us, although we didn’t share the radical pessimism of punk. With ‘Steve McQueen’ and the new LP, our message has become more direct, simple and immediate. ”
Does the soft atmosphere somehow reflect your personalities?
“Of course. All four of us have a very pure and sensitive approach to beautiful things. The best term for our music is ‘ingenious’, which is a perfect translation of the essence of our melodies.”
Paddy, some of the critics have called you the best pop composer of the 80’s. Do you really feel that’s true?
“I’d like some day to be compared to John Lennon, Dylan, or even Gershwin. I still have so much to learn, and so much I want to write. What is most important to me is that the man in the street can appreciate my songs, and that my music can reach as much of the public as possible.”
What impression do you get of today’s pop scene?
“An absolute poverty of ideas. Prince and a few others are the only saving graces of a depressing music scene. Unfortunately musical masterpieces such as ‘West Side Story’ by Leonard Bernstein aren’t everyday events.”
When will we see you playing live?
“For the time being we haven’t scheduled any tours. We don’t think of ourselves as virtuouso musicians, and therefore playing live makes us too nervous. We’re of the opinion that the Prefab Sprout image can be propagated just as well even via our videos, at least for the moment. And then we also feel the need to go back into the recording studio to make the new album, maybe once again with America in mind.”