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The maestro of County Durham is back
on 7 October 2013
"You surely are a truly gifted kid / But you're only as good as the last great thing you did." These famous words from the Prefab Sprout song "Moving the River" echo in my mind as I listen to the new album "Crimson/Red" for the umpteenth time. Yes, songwriter Paddy McAloon is undoubtedly truly gifted, and this the last great thing he did makes him better than ever before.
"Crimson/Red" is nothing short of a miracle. McAloon has fought with eye problems and hearing problems for several years which would have broken lesser men, but notwithstanding these obstacles he managed to rise above them all to create an album so full of energy, confidence and musical intelligence it's truly heartwarming. Just listen to such a sweet gem of a pop song that is "Billy", and all cynical doubts about the power of music are dissolved. Or listen to such a slick and elegant number as "The Best Jewel Thief In the World", and you realize that Paddy McAloon is performing at the top of his game here.
"Crimson/Red" is really a record that wasn't meant to be. For contractual reasons, McAloon had to quickly pick these ten songs and then managed to record them at hyperdrive speed: it took less than two months to complete the album. The songs were picked from his unreleased projects, some of them date from 1997 ("Grief Built the Taj Mahal", "The Old Magician"), others were written in 2011 ("Billy"). It's safe to say that "Crimson/Red" is a kind of "greatest hits" album culled from McAloon's famously vast archive of unreleased songs.
Because of his health problems, Paddy McAloon was forced to play all instruments himself on the album. And he certainly deserves credit for making the record sound lively and timeless. It's even more flabbergasting when one contemplates the fact that he still uses his old 1987 Atari computer to arrange the music. Of course, the sound of the album would have been enriched with the addition of his former band members, but this reviewer firmly believes it is a much better thing to hear these songs performed by Paddy himself, than not being able to hear them at all.
"Crimson/Red" is a record which builds on the past glories of Prefab Sprout, while at the same time opens a door to future releases. There's really nothing nostalgic about this record, but when I listen to it I feel a kind of nostalgia about what is yet to come. This record will undoubtedly prove that there is an audience for Prefab Sprout's music, and that Paddy McAloon should be regarded as one of the most important songwriters of today - in short, he is a national treasure.
Prefab Sprout is back. And Paddy McAloon has through force of will and sleight of hand given us a tantalizing glimpse of his songwriting treasures. He's simply the best jewel thief in the world.