Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Twelve Tasks Of ToffeeBoy #9 – Prefab Sprout




Well, I had been planning to leave my favourite band of all time till last – this (as far as any sort of forethought has gone into this foolhardy scheme of mine) was supposed to be the twelfth task. But in the last few weeks, the world has changed. And it’s been changed by music. It’s been changed by the release of Prefab Sprout’s new (or rather, old) album, Let’s Change The World With Music.

And now, I can’t concentrate on anything else but Prefab Sprout and all the associated works of Paddy McAloon. I’ve been revisiting old albums, listening to obscure B-sides, downloading live concerts from 2000 (OK, only one of those) and listening to the new album more times than is good for my health and my relationship. I've also spent a lot of time on a Prefab Sprout forum - which has been interesting, but I have to confess that I feel slightly guilty about this - almost like I've been 'playing away'. Anyway the point is that I can’t get the Sprouts out of my head and when tincanman asked us to set our iTunes to full-on shuffle mode, it was almost inevitable that a Prefab Sprout track would come up first – as indeed it did.

I know that when it comes to loving Prefab Sprout, I’m not alone in these parts (hi there frogprincess, sourpus, fuel, BalearicBeat, TonNL) but I also know that there are some of you out there who still need to be convinced of the genius of McAloon. So I present for your listening pleasure, eleven tracks covering the whole twenty seven years that Paddy’s been creating his wonderful music.

Here are some rules for making comments on this thread:

- you are allowed not to like his voice
- you can say that the music isn’t quite to your taste
- you can comment in a vaguely negative way about the production values

But:

- you MUST agree that the man is a lyrical genius
- you HAVE TO acknowledge that the chord structures and melodic shifts are the hallmarks of a top-notch songwriter
- you MUST accept that Prefab Sprout are a truly significant pop act

Right. OK. If you buy just one Prefab Sprout album it should be Steve McQueen. If you just listen to one track, make it Nightingales.

Here’s the music:

Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone)
The Devil Has All The Best Tunes
Elegance
Moving The River
Nightingales
Bearpark
Diana
The Wedding March
Swans
Love Will Find Someone For You
Earth, The Story So Far

Hear are some links:

Sproutnet - the unofficial Prefab Sprout website
A fan site with an excellent discography
A fantastic Prefab Sprout blog
Wikipedia

23 comments:

Abahachi said...

Shooting fish in a barrel, really, but a forceful reminder that I really must make time to listen to the albums properly. I wore out a tape of the Life of Surprises singles collection, to the extent of knowing pretty well all the songs by heart, back in the days of the final unfunded year of the PhD when I really couldn't afford more than one discounted cassette a month, and always meant to catch up on the whole oeuvre when I was vaguely solvent again - and I must confess I never got round to it. Will do it, I promise.

Anonymous said...
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FP said...

Not sure what the Mandarin (I'm assuming) says. Top post Toffee. The new album is fabulous and I got tears in my eyes when I listened to it. There is a campaign to give Paddy the freedom of the city of Durham to which I would fully adhere. They are and remain my favourite group ever since Swoon intrigued me and broke into my feverish A level revision.
----
Just a wee cou cou to Blimpy and anyone else who has been poorly lately. It has hit me all this last week and I have felt utterly dire. Still not out of the woods so please send positive thoughtwave Alsace-wise. And we ARE just talking about the flu here...

Chris said...

His voice is not unpleasant.
The music isn’t quite to my taste.
I would comment in a vaguely negative way about the production values but that's covered by the previous comment.

But:

I probably would agree that the man is a lyrical genius if I made the effort to listen to the words properly (and I should; I know I should. Mea culpa.) I am not keen on his rather flexible use of metre, however.
I fully and unreservedly acknowledge that the chord structures and melodic shifts are the hallmarks of a top-notch songwriter.
I fully and unreservedly accept that Prefab Sprout are a truly significant pop act.

(I listened to Nightingales first but have enjoyed it less than the others I've listened to (I'm close to really liking Moving The River!). It's the production values I mainly have a problem with: maybe that's what distances me from 'Pop'. Does the world need so much reverb?...)

sourpus said...

I remember this WT clip - in fact it was the first time I'd really paid close attention to what Paddy was writing and what the band were performing. I saw them in concert in London only a short while after this was broadcast. I still havent heard LCTWWM - mostly coz Im not within 200 miles of a decent record shop. But im surely looking forward to it. Thanks for posting TB.

Abahachi said...

At least it's mostly a good old-fashioned spring reverb rather than that nasty digital delay nonsense. And in any case it's infinitely preferable to a chorus pedal.

Actually my favourite guitar effect is the spring reverb that my father built. Always struck me as a wonderful bit of engineeering; get an echo effect by sending half the signal down a long spring so it takes longer to arrive...

As you can probably tell, I've decided that Cotes du Rhone is the best available cold/flu cure, supplemented with Cadbury's Dairy Milk and Strictly Come Dancing.

TonNL said...

...another Prefab Sprout afficionado here...

Bought the new album earlier this week, love it...

A friend of mine visited me earlier today, I played the new Prefbab Sprout, the first thing he said: "Is that something new by Thomas Dolby?" ;-)

ToffeeBoy said...

@ frogprincess - Swoon changed my life, musically speaking. Nothing's sounded quite the same since I first heard Cruel, Elegance, I Never Play Basketball Now and all the rest.

Anti-flu-like thoughts speeding their way to you as we speak.

@ chris - excellent post. Love it!

@ sourpus - buy it online - now! You won't regret it. I promise.

@ Abahachi - there's a lot to catch up on but if you enjoyed the generally-more-poppy-singles, I can almost guarantee that you'll love the more left-field, sophisticated album tracks.

@ TonNL - sorry, I should have included you in my list of known Sprout fans - I have now rectified this.

sourpus said...

TB, just want to thank you for alerting me to LCTWWM. Very fortunately, it turns out, its on Spotify - although I will of course order my own copy..

I just want to say something about my relationship with PS. I first heard them on one of those preview shows, just a glimpse (about 5 seconds of When Love Breaks Down) and was immediately intrigued by what seemed to me to be a completely original and fresh thing going on. I went out probably the next day in search of a record.

Not long after that (I dont think these words are too strong) I absolutely fell in LOVE with Steve McQueen as an album. I listened to it intensely and every little nuance of the songs and twist of the lyrics gave me litereal goose bumps; in fact, I probably liked it too much, coz although I bought/borrowed/taped Jordan the Comeback, Swoon, Langley Park and Protest Songs, I didnt listen to any of them nearly as much after that. I think its also because I just kind of moved on personally from the era in which I was listening to SM; for years, I looked back on the eighties with some trepidation and dismay and didnt want to look back there at all.

SM was enough though, for me to always jump to Paddy's defense as one of the greatest song writers in pop history (I dont think this is overstating the case at all).

Another reason I let go of PS music was because of my own shortcomings as a musician. For years, the only thing Paddy wrote which I was able to play along with, was the repeating riff from Faron Young! Everything else he did was way beyond my skills for many many years. In fact, it was only when I heard SM redone acoustically that I realised how well Paddy (and Thomas Dolby) had had me fooled all those years with chord structures that didnt sound like they were written on guitar at the time.

Anyway, here I go on another journey with Prefab Sprout. Looking forward to it, really...

ToffeeBoy said...

@ sourpus - that's the sort of feedback that makes the whole sorry Twelve Tasks episode worthwhile. If I'm ever in Budapest, I will most certainly seek you out, buy you a pint or two and spend the evening discussing the finer points of the Sprouts.

And your statement that Paddy is 'one of the greatest song writers in pop history' is absolutely spot on.

BllodyParadise said...

Count me in - from the outset I was faint with admiration . . . even have their Jordan: The EP.

Equally a long-time fan of Thomas 'It doesn't Mean a Thing, If You Haven't Got The Swing' Dolby.

And while we're about it - The High Llamas. Somewhere there's a photo of Sean and Cathal playing at a one-off night I put on in Cork - The Fool Moon Club. I'll find it eventually . . .

BloodyParadise said...

Err - that's Bloody, not Bll Oddie . . .

ToffeeBoy said...

@ BllodyParadise - come on in - the more the merrier.

I'd love to see the picture of Sean and Cathal. But surely it would have been Microdisney, not The High Llamas. Love them both, by the way.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ BP - oh - I just thought there was some sort of Welsh thing going on ...

Abahachi said...

Okay, so far I absolutely love 90% of Jordan the Comeback, and am left completely cold by everything on Steve McQueen except the songs I already know. Not sure what this says about me, but I fear for my standing in the eyes of TB. Am planning to clear an afternoon for the new album.

Japanther said...

As a first time listener of PS but a big fan of TTTOTB, i'll just offer a quick tuppence worth.
- Yes, great lyrics and turns of phrase.
- music didn't always seem to fit the tone of the lyrics, but that's OK by me!
- Not quite sure about the voice, but don't dislike it.
- i'm not (yet!) 100% convinced i'm in the presence of genius
- all tunes grew on me on the second listen
- which all bodes well for repeat listens!!


once again, thanks TB!

TracyK said...

I too adore Jordan the Comeback Japanther and have failed to adore everything else as equally. I really like Faron Young and When Love Breaks Down though. I do think JtC is just a wonderful, beautiful thing. Ach, think I have to go and play wild Horses now...

Shoegazer said...

Some Sprout songs provide instant gratification, some take a little longer to seep in.

"Hot dog, jumping frog, Albequeque". Even a lyrical genius can have his off days.

Nothing much wrong with the production

Certainly a band who deserved wider acclaim than they got.

TracyK said...

Sorry, above aimed at Aba.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ Japanther - keep on listening! Every track is a grower - as I'm currently discovering with the new album.

@ TracyK - I very nearly chose Jordan The Comeback as my "If you buy only one album ...". Steve McQueen is the album of choice for most PS fans though so I thought I'd go with the flow. I also love Protest Songs - in fact, I love 'em all ...

@ Shoey - thanks for that. I think the whole King Of Rock'n'Roll thing is a bit unfortunate as for many people that song is Prefab Sprout. The song (when listened to in the context of the whole PS ouevre) is clearly ironic and the choicee of words in the chorus is supposed to represent the sort of nonsense lyrics which all too frequently crop up in the sort of smash hit singles that Paddy was trying to satirise. Meaningless refrences to meaningless things - problem is, out of context, it just sounds like a bad lyric. It's so not!

Abahachi said...

I'm afraid I'm with Shoey on The King of Rock'n'Roll; yes, of course it's ironic, but it's a far worse line than any of the things Paddy was satirising. For me, at any rate, it's too distant from the source material, so it doesn't bring to mind the target and skewer its weaknesses but simply leaves me thinking 'Huh?'. Contrast Cars and Girls, one of my absolute favourites and absolutely spot on, even if you like Springsteen.

However, really came on to say that I'm now on my third listen of the new album and absolutely loving it. Given that I haven't heard any of the other albums before this week, I'm coming at this from a slightly odd direction, and my initial reaction is that this is stronger than any of them. I was tempted by the thought, esp. when listening to Steve McQueen, that maybe PS were one of those bands best appreciated in the Greatest Hits format (I seem to recall a thread about this a whole ago), but LCTWWM blows that idea out of the water.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ Abahachi - fair enough - perhaps the best we can say is it probably paid the mortgage for a year or two!

I'm really pleased that you're enjoying LCTWWM. The good news is that it's a grower - so if you're loving it after three listens that can only be good news for your future relationship with the album!

barbryn said...

Coming late to this one as usual - and late to Prefab Sprout too. I remember "The Sound of Crying" when it came out, liked "Appetite" when it cropped up on LastFM radio, and quite like that one about hot dogs and Albequeque. But that's about it.

I agree with practically every word of Chris' post (though his flexible metres don't bother me). But I will definitely investigate further - I've always been a listener to lyrics, and there's clearly a lot going on here.

Maybe it's because I started listening to music seriously in 1990, but 80s production is such a turn-off for me. It's spoilt several ToffeeBoy tasks for me - though I'd probably love these bands if they'd appeared in a different decade.