The brightest boy in the class has a problem. He needs to record an album, but he can’t choose which songs to include. He has enough material ready for seven albums. Life can certainly be worrisome if you are called Paddy McAloon and writes more songs than most of us write shopping lists.
Seven albums. He lists them briefly. “The first is ‘Knights in Armour’ which has become an ultra-romantic album And then there’s an album which is all songs about Michael Jackson…”
Pardon? About Michael Jackson? He continues unperturbed, “Around Michael Jackson, yes, ‘Under the Veil’. Then there’s “Let’s Change the World With Music” which I wrote at the time of the Gulf War. There’s a Christmas record ready… I have an album with Phil Spector-like material that I wrote when we were doing our last album ‘Jordan: The Comeback’. And then there’s one whose title I can’t reveal… number seven is called ‘Zorro the Fox’, which was actually intended as a soundtrack without a film. but it will be difficult to do now Steven Spielberg appears to have bought all the rights to Zorro. I’ve become a bit depressed about it.”
Why not call Spielberg and tell him you’ve already provided a soundtrack in advance. “Then he’d no doubt want a tape and I haven’t got any of that stuff completed. It takes a lot of time and money to get round that issue. It would help if I had a couple of big hits at the same time.”
But big hits are something that the brightest boy in the class has never been blessed with. The single ‘When Love Breaks Down’ topped the English charts in ’85, but otherwise McAloon’s band mostly has a reputation for albums. These are invariably highly acclaimed melodic pop of the highest order, but only ‘Steve McQueen’ (1985) managed to reach platinum status.
Isn’t it a bit early, while we’re waiting for the next album, to bring out ‘The Best of Prefab Sprout’? McAloon: “It depends how you look at it. If we as a band had put the idea forward ourselves, it would have been wrong. But the proposal came from the record company. That’s pretty flattering. And there we had the first decade from which to put together a compilation album, so no problem.”
As Sony Music themselves suggests, ‘The Best of Prefab Sprout’ (including two new songs) is primarily intended to bring recognition for McAloon’s writing talent, to highight it to a wider audience. Because he is a talent. McAloon skilfully juggles styles, themes and lyrics and works at a pace only Prince or Elvis Costello would rival. In Newcastle, he creates songs by the dozen.
“My working methods aren’t as hectic as they were. When I’m at home I really could sit from nine to five behind my keyboard, but I still spend a lot of time at it. My problem is I can sometimes get very inspired. I write a lot of songs in succession.”
The hunt for the perfect pop song is unrelenting. Although he has made laudable efforts with Prefab Sprout. McAloon believes he’s a still a long way from perfection. He remains modest: “I’ve not even come close, not within a million miles. I’ve tried, but I’ve never been as successful as Jimmy Webb with ‘Wichita Lineman’ or Rodgers & Hart with ‘My Funny Valentine’.”
Have the years of the ultimate pop songs gone? McAloon: “I myself haven’t heard much in recent years that’s exceptionally good. The Police? Great pop songs, but not perfect. I loved ‘Roxanne’, but even ‘Every Breath You Take’ was an exercise in style, an exercise in something that had already been done.”
He refuses to get riled by charts and power-hungry media any more. “I follow the charts, but I don’t think it would make a difference if I listened intensely to today’s bands. There’s nothing more fragile than trying to run next week with the successes of this week. If you start doing that you get caught up left and right.”