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.
on 7 October 2013
With their best album since the sublime Steve McQueen, Prefab Sprout are back with a bang, and the Old Magician himself, Paddy McAloon is on the toppest of top form. Bacharach and David, McCartney, Brian Wilson, Cole Porter - these are the standards by which you can measure Crimson/Red, and the combination of brilliantly witty and poignant lyrics, and melodic magnificence is here displayed in what Mr McAloon calls the 'strophic form' - magical choruses that lift the songs to new heights. This is one of those albums, Like Absent Friends by Divine Comedy, or Rattlesnakes by Lloyd Cole, where every track is a standout. In another review on here someone said he manages to make every song both immediately catchy and yet with something new to discover with each fresh hearing, and that is spot on. The List of Impossible Things is a yearningly emotional elegy, with lines like, "Sleeping on cold stone floors, engaged in some new noble cause; stretch out your hands to hold a grandeur that won't be controlled". The Old Magician brings tears to the eyes and Billy - well, I guarantee you'll be singing it around the house after two listens. This is unmissably good pop music.
on 11 October 2013
I'll start by saying that I am a long term Sprouts fan and have eagerly awaited the release of this album. The downside of being a Sprouts fan is that you end up with high expectations. Given the quality of the songs that have gone before, I was highly sceptical about any early comparisons with Steve McQueen and Jordan the Comeback. I've had the album for the best part of a week now and have played it around half a dozen times.
I'll start with the not so good.
Firstly, the album only has 10 songs lasting about 40 minutes. Like any Sprout fan, we would actually want more! Secondly, there are aspects of the production that are not particularly strong. That hasn't caused me too much concern, except when I have tried to play the CD in my car, or listen to it with headphones. Even on high quality headphones, Paddy's voice does not stand apart from the music. In an open room, however, production issues don't cloud what is good about this album, and that is the songs. Third, and I only say this so as to use an exception to prove a point. 'List of Impossible Things' is the one song on the album that has me singing the lyrics of an older Prefab Sprout song along to it. That older song is Dandy of the Danube, one of the B side songs from the King of Rock and Roll single. It's not that the songs are even similar, there is just a hint of similarity. That, however, doesn't stop List of Impossible Things from being a pretty good tune, however. The point I was trying to make is that the other 9 songs don't sound like reworkings of anything that has gone before. Delivering a set of fresh tunes is a challenge for any artist.
Now The Good;
This is a damn fine set of songs and no filler at all on this album. Yes, the songs have that Prefab Sprout sound, but each song stands on its own, and there are some well crafted gems here.
The Best Jewel Thief in the World. This song is catchy. The first time I heard it I thought that it would grate on me because I don't like instantly catchy songs at all, and usually tire of them after 2 or 3 listens. Having now heard this quite a few times over the last week, I have found that it is a catchy tune that is also a grower.
List of Impossible Things. A fine tune, but for me the weakest track on the album. However, as someone who consumes music as a glutton consumes food, weak in terms of this album is still damned good.
Adolescence. Curious with it's retro Atari sound, this is a song that throws lost of stuff at it, so much so that it shouldn't work on paper. On first listen, it didn't really work for me. However, now I would call it one of the stand out tracks on the album.
Grief Built The Taj Mahal. This is the song that sounds least like anything that has gone before, Sproutwise. The curious jangling almost sounded unstructured on first listen, but after hearing it a few times, it is another well crafted piece of work.
The Devil Came A Calling. My personal favourite on the album. Unusually for a Sprouts track, it relies heavily on an acoustic guitar, but very cleverly done.
Billy. An absolute classic of overblown enthusaism. The most confident track on the album. This song is good and it knows it!
The Dreamer. Dreamy and Gentle. I love the way that Paddy sings 'Now I'm just a dreamer, emerging from a dream'. From the same school as 'Where the heart is', but better than that.
The Songs of Danny Galway. Like The Best Jewel Thief in the World, this should also be annoying after a few listens. It sounds like it should be the theme to a popular ITV program. Very uplifting.
The Old Magician. Lyrically very pleasing. One of the album's gems.
Mysterious. The one song on the album that has managed to maintain it's mystery and the least familiar to me after a week of listening. The out of tune harmonica sound that holds this tune together is the most obvious element of the song after a few listens, while the song behind it does not seek to be bold or confident, just beautiful.
All in all, this is a wonderful collection of stories in song. Crimson/red, and many other colours on the palette besides. I did not want to give this 5 stars as I did not believe that Paddy would be capable of delivering something that would match my overhyped expectations. Reinforcing hype is something I find distasteful. However, 5 stars it is. the strength of the songs more than makes up for what is lacking in the production.
Comparisons with Jordan are a little early. However, in a year's time, I strongly suspect that it will have that accolade deservedly. This album looks like a strong candidate to pass the test of time.
on 30 October 2013
WOW! Mr Paddy Mc Aloon has restored my faith in good music. Everything he does is magic in sickness and in health. Paddy may look older in his photos but I can reassure you his mind is still perfect. This album has lifted my spirits like never before, especially in these time here in Ireland of Austerity, budgets, depression, anxiety. One listen to this cd has dragged me head first from a serious decline into depression once again. I'm not ashamed to say, I cried and choked back tears listening to this wonderful cd Crimson Red. Having said that, I thought Lets Change The World With Music is a remarkable album also and Paddy is definitely Changing My World with his music. No Mercury prize nominations here but I feel, like all the great artists and writers who were unknown when they were alive, it will take Paddy's passing for people to realise we have a Motzart in our presence all along but some were blind and deaf to his remarkable input to music. A true Genius. I'll not plough thru track by track, it's a pointless exercise at this stage. Every song, every, note, every arrangement, every melody is perfect. Shades of Jordan and Mc Queen and Andromeda all here. It brought me back to happy times and thrust me forward to present times back and forth. Mindblowing stuff from Prefab and Paddy. Thank God for Paddy. You have made my year. And my life to an extent.The Old Magician knocked me over.
on 12 October 2013
OK, we fans miss Mr MacAloon and are bound to get a bit excited when he serves up another helping of his genius,but this must be his best album for the best part of 20 years, if not more. As another reviewer said, something's going on with 80s songwriters at the moment - Deacon Blue, Lloyd Cole and now Prefab Sprout have produced their finest works for many years recently - whatever it is, long may it continue!
The only downside I can see is that it isn't a band album - I'd have loved to have heard Wendy's breathless vocal swooshes, Neil's drumming and Martin's bass. But there's a much broader musical and instrimental palette than on recent releases, a real lightness of touch and plenty of those Prefab moments that make you smile, tug your heartstrings or both.
I don't know the individual songs well enough yet to write about them in detail but there's energy, wistfulness, intelligence, humour and of course moments of the sublime, all with Paddy's voice at it's melodic best. None of the tracks could be confused with anyone else, this is most definitely a Prefab Sprout album and, in my view, one of the best. And that's the greatest recommendation I can give for what's a very fine record indeed.
on 8 December 2013
Of course I'm biased with Steve McQueen still my all time favourite album, and everything since being as good as contemporary music gets. This Prefab Sprout album stands respectably alongside everything else in Paddy's back catalogue. There's not a duff track on it and there is a good handful of standout songs. "Billy"s the perfect pop song: catchy, original and somehow familiar all at the same time. It's difficult to believe it hasn't been around for years. Just under the surface of these smooth and polished pop songs, there are mature themes of retrospection, grief and mortality, There's menace, humour and poignancy. As well as my own copy, I bought the CD for a friend who confessed that driving home and playing it for the first time, he'd had to pull over listening to The Old Magician. Without doubt or a near challenger, this is the best album of 2013. It has a slightly different feel to the production of earlier Prefab Sprout albums, not least since Paddy played every instrument on the whole album and its effectively a solo project. Who knows - Thomas Dolby might just have talked Paddy out of quite so much harmonica?!
on 20 October 2013
Lets face it , when one of your favourite singers or groups, decide on a comeback or to release new material, well you cant help getting that initial feeling of dread. What if it isn't up to their older, more popular and recognisable material. What if its just rubbish. If you are like me ( and you can probably thank God that you are not ) then you feel sort of protective towards your Heroes, you don't want them to fail. Well with, Crimson/Red, Paddy Mcaloon , has produced his best work ever. To make a classic record, doesn't mean every song has to be a classic ( Would you buy a record with only Ringos work from the Beatles or only Dylans dreams etc ) This is a classic 5 star record because you want to listen to it more than once and then again. You cant explain, WHY," Wichita lineman ", is a classic song, it just is. This record will make you, Smile,cry,laugh,tap your feet and sing along,how many records do that ?. To pick a favourite ?," Songs of Danny Galway " and " Billy " stand out, but hey choose your own. Oh and Paddy, " if your listening out there " please don't make us wait so long for the next one.
on 6 December 2014
I was first introduced to Prefab Sprout, their music, I mean, I've never actually met them, though I should just say him, really, these days, meaning Paddy M., who always was anyway the main man or head honcho, by a school friend by the name, funnily enough, or I find it funny anyway, and did, of Flinders McGrath, at around the time that the 'Swoon' album was released, and oh, what joy I suffered, a mere boy, a mere boy awash with all those adolescent thoughts and feelings, adrift on an ocean of hormones and all that. McGrath and I would climb to the top of a tree, and with the aid of a very long extension cord, listen to that LP while looking out, and down, on our old hometown. I even petted quite heavily with a girl on a Welshman's bed to the tune of 'Steve McQueen', the record not the man. And having listened to this one twice now, on earphones, my resolve to do away with myself, such is my sorrow at time's passage, so sweet does the maestro's voice remain, is only stiffened.
on 23 October 2013
So many great reviews here already there's little to add - it's all been said. But I thought I'd share some of my thoughts regardless.
McAloon's voice is in great shape.
Most of the material here is the best kind of Prefab stuff - songs that are immediate mixed with ones that reveal more meaning as time passes.
Err, what else? I wouldn't really class myself as a Prefab Sprout fan. Or spiritual. But something about this music makes me feel that life is alright, and that what comes afterwards will - when it happens - will be alright too. To paraphrase one of McAloon's Hiberno-English contemporaries: when I'm lying in my bed I think about life and I think about death, and both are luminous.
One final thing. The Old Magician - Prospero?
One more final thing - get this record if you like Jordan: The Comeback. It's got a lot in common with it in terms of imagery, theme, melody and big genius.
I've been a fan of Prefab Sprout for many years but if I'm entirely honest their last few albums have been a little underwhelming. I'm delighted to say that "Crimson / Red" is absolutely outstanding.
For starters there's Paddy McAloon's wonderful voice - as rich as it ever was - and this time the songs are excellent too. From the opening "The Best Jewel Thief In The World" it doesn't put a foot wrong, and if I'm absolutely honest, although some may disagree with me here, for me this is the best Prefab Sprout album to date. Some may bemoan the absence of Wendy and the rest of the original band (thanked by Paddy in the sleeve notes) but personally I think this is excellent as it is.
Unless something comes along in the next couple of weeks that changes things, this is my favourite album of 2013 by some margin. A wonderful record.