Prefab Sprout Album Reviews

Formed around the songwriting talents of Durham’s Paddy McAloon, Prefab Sprout enjoyed some commercial success in the 1980s and early 1990s, but have been relegated to the status of cult band ever since. It’s a shame, as McAloon is a very talented songwriter; he’s able to integrate complex chord structures into catchy pop songs, and his lyrics are often filled with clever wordplay and his preoccupations with mortality, religion, and stardom.

Paddy McAloon is clearly the central figure of the group, to the point where Prefab Sprout’s last two albums were recorded by him alone, however during the group’s heyday he was supported by three other core members. Drummer Neil Conti was low key and meshed well with the group’s sound, and out of all the group’s supporting members he’s had the most high profile career outside the band, running a recording studio and playing in Bowie’s band. The most distinctive member was backing singer Wendy Smith, whose treated “oohs” were woven into the band’s textures by producer Thomas Dolby.

The group broke through to mainstream attention with their second album, Steve McQueen, where Thomas Dolby’s production and editing helped tone down the precociousness of McAloon into a strong pop album. Steve McQueen is probably the best place to start with Prefab Sprout, although I think 1990’s sprawling Jordan: The Comeback is their masterpiece. The group lost momentum after Jordan, as record company miscommunication sabotaged the followup album, but McAloon has released some strong material in the 21st century, particularly his 2003 solo album I Trawl The Megahertz and 2013’s Crimson/Red.

The band started their career as a 1980s guitar band, albeit one with ambitious chord changes and arrangements. As their career progressed they have shown an inclination towards adult contemporary; while McAloon’s warm voice and complex chord progressions fit the genre well, it can still be off-putting. But generally, McAloon’s inventive song-craft and likeable personality make the group compelling for me, even when I find albums like the orchestrated ballads of Andromeda Heights or the country flavours of The Gunman and Other Stories stylistically unappealing.

Prefab Sprout also have plenty of interesting non-album material which has never been collected onto CD – early singles like ‘Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone)’ are well worth tracking down, and my favourite Prefab Sprout song is 1997’s b-side ‘The End of the Affair’, originally written for Cher. Rumour has it that McAloon has albums full of unreleased material, including a concept record about Michael Jackson and an album full of songs titled ‘Goodbye Lucille’.

Ten Favourite Prefab Sprout Songs

The End of the Affair
The Ice Maiden
Appetite
The Best Jewel Thief in the World
The World Awake
I Remember That
Cornfield Ablaze
Faron Young
Scarlet Nights
Billy