The leader of the new wave rock group Prefab Sprout explains to the Express why he’s dedicated an entire album to American country music.
In the 1980s, a flurry of hits (Lions in My Own Garden and When Love Breaks Down), then the rock-opera Jordan: the Comeback,secured the reputation of Prefab Sprout. The name of the group means nothing at all, but sounded sufficiently bizarre to the ears of its leader, the other-worldly Paddy McAloon. The Newcastle quartet belonged to the refined wing of the avant-garde, a little mannered, the UK rock scene that was named new wave, then new new wave. There then followed a long absence, nearly 10 years, before the release of The Gunman & Other Stories (EMI), the new album as confusing as it is charming, completely clothed in country music. So how was an extreme dandy such as McAloon able to take to a genre he believed, not long ago, to be corny and vulgar? He explains.
“Country isn’t my idiom or my style. I like more sophisticated or contemporary music, pop or jazz. I’ve always had mixed feelings towards it, a distaste for its conservatism mixed with fascination for the sort of simple beauty it expresses or for the voices that express it. Kenny Rogers for example in Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town, or Jimmy Webb in By the Time I Get to Phoenix. It’s magnificent, moving.”
And McAloon recounts the genesis of the album, the commission from the BBC to write songs for a TV Series, Crocodile Shoes, the history of an English songwriter who goes to Nashville with the dream of becoming a country star. “When it started I was just going to content myself with writing a music of illustration. But it became much more. I reinterpreted this cowboy music from the basis of an idea I was having. It’s a genre that always finds an echo in the British Isles, it’s the music that’s played on Saturday evenings in working class front rooms. I think to write it I summoned up memories that I’d lost since childhood.”
Paddy McAloon loves the kind of instruments and chords used in country music, as well as its narrative conventions and sugared lyrics. And as if to illustrate this appreciation, he quotes the words of Cowboy Dreams, the lovely song that opens the record, interpreted with the backing of a banjo: “Love’s a Silver Bullet/that blows your world apart/I want to be remembered as an outlaw/The boy who stole your heart.” Devilishly romantic and highly recommended.