on 26 June 2003
I rushed out and bought this album on vinyl back in 1985 after hearing "Appetite" on MTV late one evening. (Yes, I know that's on Steve McQueen, but Swoon was the only Sprout album the record shop had in stock).
It soon became one of my favourite albums/music of all time (up there with Elvis Costello's Spike, Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Gentle Giant's Power and the Glory, Bartok string quartets and anything by Steely Dan - and, er, yes, Steve McQueen).
It's the one I play just as much if not more.
I read somewhere that Paddy hates it and would like to withdraw all copies or replace them with new recordings of the songs.
Paddy, if you're reading this, I knew you were a nutter but perhaps they should change your medication ;-).
Steve McQueen is the more "beautiful" and lavishly produced of the two and "When love breaks down" is possibly the greatest song since John Dowland's "I saw my lady weep" (along with "Couldn't bear to be special").
for sheer originality, imagination, weirdness, insights that hurt, and, in spades, the grit that is sadly lacking from post-protest-songs sprout this is the one to go for.
I am a sprout completist, and do not regret buying any of the albums, despite some disappointments when it got too lush, but this one is the essential mr hyde to steve mcqueen's dr jekyll.
on 21 March 2002
This album is chock full of complex song structures that perhaps initially seem too clever by half. However, if you are prepared to put the effort in you are richly rewarded with an album that seems to come out of nowhere. What are the precedents? People make references to Steely Dan but I can't see it. This is erudite complex music for the head and the heart. Some years ago I had the good fortune to work briefly alongside this band and I opined that 'Swoon' was the best thing they had ever done. "Yes" said Martin "but how often do you listen to it"? At the time I thought he had a point - 'Steve McQueen' is the one you play.
Now 17 years later I realise I was right - 'Swoon' is genius the like of which rarely comes along. Take the opportunity, buy it and yes - you will always be coming back to play it.
on 3 October 2000
This band's second album, "Steve McQueen", is generally ackowledged by critics to be their best, but on my more obtuse days, I don a black poloneck, read some Graham Greene and pronounce "Swoon" to be its superior. The opening track is a rather aimless wander through a desert landscape with jangly guitars and contrived rhymes, but from there on in, this is the strangest, most perfect pop music you will ever hear. Swoon sounds like it was recorded in someone's broom cupboard (at one point, a basketball bounced on the floor becomes the beat), but Paddy McAloon's oblique lyrics and sudden shifts in pace, key and mood are never less than gripping. "Cruel" perfectly dissects male vanity and jealousy: "The world should be free, but don't you go following suit", "Elegance" addresses class stereotypes, and the haunting ballad "I Couldn't Bear To Be Special" the fear of emotional commitment: "So, don't look at me that way, Of course it gives me pride, But I can't take on the risk of Letting down the sweet, sweet side". Later, McAloon would try to become Paul McCartney, his lyrics increasingly day-glo. Here, he proves that the devil has all the best tunes - buy this album and wonder anew every time you hear it.
on 3 November 2001
A murky but beautiful concoction, Swoon is really difficult to get to know, but well worth the effort. It appeared out of nowhere, sounding like an obsessive fragment of some lost tradition - apparently McAloon spent years in his bedroom polishing everything up way past boredom, and ended up with a record of microscopic shifts, changes and observational ticks which somehow wove together in a bizarre narrative.
The song structures are very odd, and much less predictable than his later poppier efforts. Instead of classic verse-chorus-verse they seem to bring you round in an ever-decreasing orbit, and you keep meeting familiar musical figures, then it disintegrates into a different shape. At first this is very irritating, but later takes on this magical charm. You don't so much listen to this album as navigate your way through it! Most songs have 'too many bits', but you get used to it.
McAloon's vocal mannerisms veer between the opposites of an almost excruciating lack of self-consciousness and painfully shy introspection. He sings like someone forcing a sound for his own scrutiny and never really lets rip naturally. Trying his best to emote freely - "bo, bo-bee" - he only traps himself with 6th Form intellect, Jodrell Bank, and "four good A'level passes". What else can you say about a song which hero-worships chess master Bobby Fischer?
A very masculine record, Swoon substitutes restless intellectualising for real emotion, but every now and then McAloon hits a bullseye. Men the world over will pause and sigh for a moment each time they hear "Cruel", an assembly of the most perfect couplets in songwriting "But I Don't know how to describe the modern rose, When I can't refer to her shape against her clothes". We've all been there!
An anthem for the middle classes, Swoon's biggest achievement was to make romance of the real lives that most people really had back then. From a time when the united youth against Thatcher disowned its middle class identity whilst Dad drove them back to Uni, Swoon was the secret favourite, today it sounds like a real classic.
on 28 January 2016
Something nobody has ever said: if you remember the 1980s, you weren't really there. That's surprising, given the heroin craze (is craze the right word? It makes it sound like adults were chasing dragons like kids were chasing Cabbage Patch Dolls) at the dawn of the decade, and the ecstasy fuelled rave culture at its close. Well, being as I was only 1 month old at the start of the '80s, and only 10 years (and one month, if you want to be a pedant) old when I entered the 1990s, my memories of the decade are both vivid but childish, which may cast some doubt over their veracity. But I was definitely there, and definitely sober.
In terms of music, other than George Michael's white t-shirt and blond bouffant I remember little before 1988. Two tracks in particular from the early months of that year made a big impression on me: Aztec Camera's Somewhere in My Heart, and Prefab Sprout's The King of Rock'n'Roll. In the intervening 28 years I've bought everything released by the two bands and their various offshoots and solo projects, and I realised pretty quickly that those two hits were entirely unrepresentative of their oeuvre. Indeed, Paul McCartney once remarked to Paddy McAloon, the lead singer and songwriter of the Sprouts, that King... was his My Ding-a-ling (I've often wondered if McAloon was tempted to reply that it was more his Frog Chrous): a catchy, massive tune, that overshadowed all the brilliant work of his career.
And his has been a career of brilliance. From the majesty of 1985's Steve McQueen through the wild ambition of 1990's Jordan: The Comeback to the late period triumph of 2013's Crimson Red, McAloon's knack for allying a winning melody with an arch, knowing lyric has seen him rightly acclaimed as one of Britain's finest songwriters.
The quality of the songwriting is apparent on Swoon, Prefab Sprout's debut record from 1984. While lacking the polish of their later work with Thomas Dolby, there is a certain charm in the rawness and naivety of some of the confections on offer here. The two opening tracks, Don't Sing and Cue Fanfare, bear comparison with some of the songs on Steve McQueen, while the lush jazz stylings of Cruel were a welcome addition to the best selling 1992 collection A Life of Surprises: The Best of Prefab Sprout. Only a couple of duff notes are sounded: although a fan favourite I've never swooned over Couldn't Bear to Be Special, while there's a slight air of work in progress about Technique. But it's churlish to criticise too harshly the first album of an act which has produced high quality material (sporadically, admittedly) for three decades. It remains an impressive, enjoyable debut which adds class and charm to any record collection.
on 7 December 2015
Prefab Sprout's debut album delivers a fascinating swirl of different musical styles, most of which are quite inspired whilst others, although interesting, aren't quite so immediate. Paddy McAloon's superior songwriting skills are best demonstrated on the likes of 'Don't Sing', 'Green Isaac', 'Cruel', 'Couldn't Bear To Be Special', 'Ghost Town Blues' and 'Elegance' and, although I can't guarantee that this collection of songs will be to everybody's taste, Swoon is an LP which I found I grew to appreciate more on repeated listens.
on 6 May 2014
When I first heard this album it was clear the Prefab Sprout sounded like no other band and that it marked the emergence, in Paddy McAloon, of a major song writing talent. The multiple albums that followed justified this view and built on the sound but nothing quite matched the impact of Swoon, the first album. It is in many ways the least immediate of the recordings but as with many other records, immediate impact and longevity are not happy bed fellows. This album 30 years later more than stands the test of time. If you have never heard it how lucky you are - that pleasure is ahead of you.
on 9 August 2008
This is a very special debut. Nothing else like it on Earth. Full of songs that sound like they were gestated with plenty of time and space and care although it feels utterly spontaneous.
Still sounds fresh and interesting 30 years after it was 'born'.
It's a child's balloon.
It's a prune on a spoon.
It's a baboon on the moon.
on 9 June 2010
From the North East of England, this trio of singer/songwriter/pianist/guitarist Paddy McAloon, brother and bassist Martin, and girlfriend & singer Wendy Smith deliver the indie/art rock debut to top them all. Its full of quirky, old school, music hall, jazzy, acoustic-based songs that evoke Cole Porter, with unique, idiosyncratic lyrics a personal take on classic subjects like death, sex, and religion. Often booked based lyrically, breezy opener "Don't Sing" is based on Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory while Ghost Town Blues is inspired by Hardy's The Trumpet Major. I know you see, because I interviewed paddy and asked him everything I could about this wonderful record. Highlights include graceful piano ballad "Cruel", the geek homage "Technique", the chess inspired Cue Fanfare and the quiet/loud Green Isaac. Genius.
on 10 December 2015
I loved this album when it came out - everything was perfect, even down to the liner notes and gatefold sleeve: "that's Swoon."