Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Albums for Life: 2 (Part 2): Prefab Sprout: Steve McQueen

Again, no apologies for these albums sharing the number two spot. I hold them close like stumbling siblings.
Paddy and Paul...

As Paul Buchanan's late night train leads him inexorably towards the next morning's cup of coffee, you kind of know that, by that time Paddy will already have had half a dozen espressos. He's up and at 'em is Paddy, a bundle of springs. It's sad that his recent health problems have rendered him increasingly inactive, but his ambition, wit and intellectual curiosity seemed inexhaustible at the time of 'Steve McQueen'. Sure, there's bitterness in certain recognitions but there is also a youthful, unsatiated desire for all of the sweetness that the world has to offer. He wants to taste everything; he wants names for everything so that he can understand, name and claim everything.
But why? 
But why? 
I think we'll call it 'appetite'. 

Buchanan asks his questions wearily, warily, non specifically, reluctantly, maybe because he is fearful of the answers. MacAloon is as interested in the questions as he is the answers. It's as though he is trying to work out how he's wired. 'I spend the day with my vanity.' He has no time for the cumbersome, crippling weight of nostalgia, and makes that clear from the offset: "Antiques, every other sentiment an antique. As obsolete as warships in the Baltic." He dreads nowt. It's not your usual rock 'n' roll rhetoric of regret, but Paddy's well aware of the genre's lingo: 'You give me Farron Young, four in the morning..." He's not aloof, he's a 'simple slave of appetite', he also "counts the hours, the minutes, the seconds too", he recognizes the 'missed chances and the same regrets', Yup, regrets are inevitable; 'all my insights from retrospect' but he's just not a traditional guy, you can keep your platitudes, 'Save your speeches, flowers are for funerals'. 
His emotional curiosity is keen and he's aware of the vagaries of love. 'Desire is a self figured creature that changes her mind'. You can take nothing for granted so... you have to stay on your toes. You need to be ahead of the game, you need defense mechanisms to protect yourself from the indulgence of indifference. 'When love breaks down the things you do to stop the truth from hurting you..." but Paddy also recognizes the importance of the thrill of love and its transience; 'life's not complete 'til you heart's missed a beat'.
These aren't vague observations; these are case studies: Johnny, Johnny whoooo?
'Desire As' feels like the album's centre pieceRegardless of his apparent detachment, Paddy has taken a few to the chin. 'I've got six things on my mind. You're no longer one of them' is heartbreaking in its disingenuousness. Denial never sounded so sweet. Love does indeed break down and love never seemed so fragile. Here comes the sweet regret: 'They were the best times, the harvest years with jam to lace the bread. So goodness, goodness knows why I throw it to the birds..." Paddy had it good, and it's gone. 'It's perfect as it stands so why then crush it in your perfect hands.' He tortures himself by asking 'In whose bed you're gonna be'... We've all been there; visualizing the unthinkable then grasping for something to salve the ache. And salvation comes in the form of song; self deception is part of self protection, but ever the romantic poet, Paddy breathlessly, unflinchingly continues his quest to find the truth in beauty, the beauty in truth. He's aware of the pitfalls of pity, 'Lying is killing the good things in me" but he's not beyond recognizing that need to salvage something from the wreckage; 'All you have to tell me are blueberry pies'

'Sweet' is one of MacAloon's favourite words, and while Paddy might sing to express his belief "that sweet talk like candy rots teeth" there are some of his sweetest melodies here. As with 'Hats' the voice is stage centre, the band are effectively rendered bit part players. And although this isn't really a band album, the musicality and production is unobtrusive but perfect. Thomas Dolby artfully coats the pill with just enough sugar as the make the confection addictive. It's never predictable or formulaic; the angelic, breathy samples, the floating snares, the rim shots, the pauses, the pumping bass lines, all work sympathetically to underpin and support the concerns of that gloriously light voice. 

So there you go. 
Poles apart: these two albums regard love and its loss from a different aesthetic and artistic point of view, but are entirely apposite in each other's company. 
Paddy would insist that we need to name them to recognize ourselves in them. 
Let's not call them 'heartache' because it's not a boy's name. 
Paul would surely go for 'A Love Theme for the Wilderness' but that seems less germane than maybe 'Songs for the Hopeless and Hopeful'. 
That would cover the bases. 
Or perhaps 'Gloom and Vroom' would be catchier. 
All emotional conceits are covered by these two wonderfully fragile albums. And I hold them close like stumbling siblings, too close to separate my affections. Paddy is a younger, wide eyed brother, full of energetic inquiry and eccentric contradiction. Paul is the wounded elder, a battered sage who'll reluctantly give you directions but knows that ultimately you'll walk the same streets as him; the way of all flesh and blood. 
For their weakness and their strength, for the candour of their council; I love them both like family. 


  1. What a great write up on one of my favourite albums. David's gone for the same album in #2 spot but I have to play awkward bugger and go for 'Jordan', by a farmyard cats whisker.

  2. Chatting with Marcus about Jordan tonight.
    So many great songs... many too many for a perfect album.
    Should it have been a double?
    Or 4 EPs?

    1. Agree that Jordan was a great 19 track album, but could have been a 12 track classic. But what would you choose to leave off?

    2. I've just reordered as I can't find mine.
      0.01p & p&p from Amazon...
      I'll give you my edit.
      12 tracks you say Bazza?

  3. "I love them both like family."

    On being protective of our songs... You've nailed it! When someone says something even mildly offensive or ignorant about one of our beloved songs/albums/artists, it's up with the fists, and "Don't you be bad-mouthin' my Mama!"

    I mentioned a couple of days ago, that you were the one that made the diagnosis of my being over-protective of my music... goes back to your posting your Grant McLennan pick Horsebreaker Star. I related my inner turmoil whilst dining at the posh Sonny's Redneck Ribhouse in Florida, surrounded by gnarly old ugly-ass bikers, and hearing over the PA the strains of "All Her Songs" fill the room. Gob-smacked to hear ANYTHING by Grant played on radio or anywhere in America. I wanted to jump up and shout "Hey, that's Grant... LISTEN YOU IGNORANT BASTARDS!"

    Your diagnostic response: "We do get over-protective about our loved songs. I feel conflicted whenever a Simon and Garfunkle song comes up on the Karaoke machine..." I'm still curious about the conflict... Are you disturbed by the the "singers" mangling the song, or do you wanna get up there and show'em how to do it right?!

    I can't keep up with your posts, you're just zipping them out! I must say, these last few posting have been remarkable. You've psychoanalyzed the artists & dissected the music itself brilliantly, bringing out depth that's rather overwhelming for my simple little mind. I can't imagine how you do it, how many hours/days it takes to compose these pieces... Well done, and think about studying to be a shrink!

    I've only got one petty piece of enlightenment for you... "Desire as a SYLPH-FIGURED creature that changes her mind." Discovered it in an interview with Paddy, but also here: http://www.prefabsprout.net/lyrics/desireas.html SYLPH: 1. a slender graceful girl or young woman 2. any of a class of imaginary beings assumed to inhabit the air. Leave it to Paddy to come up with something like that and not include a bloody lyric sheet!!!

    http://www.prefabsprout.net/ - a goldmine of info

  4. 'Sylph Figured'? Crickey, that's brilliant. I had desire as 'self figured'. An ephemeral self absorbed, self centered, self regulating erm... sylph. I suppose that it almost takes you to the same meaning but...