It took Prefab Sprout more than a decade to build a reputation as one of the U.K.’s most popular and cultured rock bands, culminating in the top 10 success of 1990’s “Jordan: The Comeback.” Now its audience is at the end of a seven-year itch spent waiting for a follow up.
Prefab Sprout’s new album, “Andromeda Heights” is being released in the U.K., Europe and Japan Monday (5) on Kitchenware/Columbia (a U.S. deal is yet to be confirmed). The band’s personable writer and vocalist, Paddy McAloon, remains modestly confident about the act’s place in the contemporary scene.
“Maybe I should worry more about what’s in the charts than I do,” says McAloon who has resisted any temptation to change his uniquely opulent, literate style of songcrafting. “But a bit of me thinks where would be be if we all did that? I do have an arrogance about it, where even if you put me in a darkened room for 50 years, I know could do something that would be worth listening to, just because of the passions that drive me and my need for music on a spiritual level.”
After some years as a “bedroom project.” and then a local live act, Prefab Sprout (which also includes Martin McAloon and Wendy Smith) signed in 1983 to the independent Kitchenware, based in Newcastle in the northeast of England, near McAloon’s hometown of Consett in Durham. That year, just prior to starting a long-term affiliation with the then CBS, Prefab attracted attention on the indie scene with the album “The Devil Has All The Best Tunes.”
A gradual critical and commercial climb over the rest of the decade included 1985’s much-lauded album “Steve McQueen” which, renamed “Two Wheels Good,” became the band’s only American chart entry, peaking at No. 178. In 1988 came its biggest domestic success with “From Langley Park to Memphis,” which included the upbeat, radio-friendly single “The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” a No. 7 U.K. Hit that spring. Columbia puts current domestic sales of “Memphis” at some 330,000 copies.
When the “Jordan” set was released in 1990, Prefab Sprout was in the vanguard of adult pop acts, but the only album to bear its name since was the 1992 compilation “A Life of Surprises” which contained a handful of previously unreleased songs. That set is now estimated by Columbia to have sold 240,000 units in the U.K.
Prefab’s overdue return has already been celebrated in adult rock publications here, and early signs are that radio and retail remembers it name perfectly well, too.
“A Prisoner Of The Past,” the first single from “Andromeda Heights,” was released across Europe April 21 and gaine first-week adds at national rock and pop station Radio 1 and its older demographic, AC-oriented sister BBC broadcaster, Radio 2. It was also added at such leading commercial outlets as nationwide rock station Virgin Radio, Key 103 Manchester, and Heart 106.2 London. In addition, Prefab performed the single on BBC1’s mass-rated “National Lottery Live” show April 19.
The single is atypical of the generally soft, romantic mode of the album, exuding a strong Phil Spector influence. “It’s a big sound,” sais Key 103 presenter/producer Pete Mitchell. “A good return to form, and it’ll do well.”
He adds that the station still plays several of the group’s previous best-known singles including “Cars And Girls,” “When Love Breaks Down,” and “The King of Rock ‘N’ Roll.”
Andy Fordyce, chart album’s buyer for HMV says “I’ve had comments [from HMV colleagues] that the album is just as strong as “Steve McQueen,” which was regarded as a classic album. There’s huge potential there. If you look at bands like the Beautiful South, there’s a big market for that kind of sound. The album will be very strong for in-store play and listening posts and it’ll do very well throughout the summer.”
“So much can change in five years, but their fans don’t seem to go away,” says Paul Bursche, Prefab’s product manager at Columbia, noting that the label’s initial U.K. shipment of the album will be a healthy 40,000. “Prefab were never totally in fashion, so they can’t go out of fashion.”
Columbia staged a month of exposure for “Heights” in 600 up-market bars and restaurants across the country. “We got loads of feedback from that,” said Bursche, “which was great because one worry was that their fan base was old enough to stop buying records.”
Other tactics have included a mail-out to sister label Epic’s database of Lightning Seeds fans. “The other part of the plan is to say to people who havent heard of Paddy that’s he’s made a brilliant single and there are more to come [‘Electric Guitars’ will be the second], and he’s been doing a week of promotion at commercial radio,” Bursche adds.
HMV’s Fordyce says that the only blemish on Prefab’s prospects for 1997 is that it has no plans to play live. “We’ve given up on that. I was never really into it,” says McAloon, who is perhaps understandably wary of being sidetracked, since his absence from the spotlight is no reflection on his creativity.
In recent years, McAloon’s myriad other projects have included writing for two high-profile singer/actors, fellow Northeasterner (or “Geordie”) Jimmy Nail and Cher. Nail recorded several McAloon songs on his two highly successful albums based on his “Crocodile Shoes” TV series, including the 1995 hit “Cowboy Dreams,” while Cher cut “The Gunman” on her “It’s A Man’s World” album the same year.
To concentrate on “Andromeda Heights,” McAloon, whose songs are published by EMI music, shelved his most ambitious project yet, a conceptual work to be titled “Earth: The Story So Far.” Still dear to his heart, he plans to return to that labor of love in due course. “I’ll put int on the computer. It’s all written, it just needs arranging,” he says. “I’m going to keep on writing the ‘little’ songs and if I come up with another more immediate album, I might put that out first.
“I write all the time, it’s just a habit,” concludes McAloon. “Even without a sense of an audience I would do that. It’s a necessity for me to get through the day.”