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Prefab Sprout

One of the most beloved British pop bands of the '80s and '90s, Prefab Sprout have had a minimum of chart success in the United States, where they're all but unknown outside of their devoted cult following, but singer/songwriter Paddy McAloon is regularly hailed as one of the great songwriters of his era. Critics regularly compare McAloon favorably to Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, and even Cole Porter, but the self-effacing and publicity-shy performer modestly prefers to let his increasingly rare albums speak for themselves.

Prefab Sprout were formed in Newcastle, England, in 1977 by McAloon (who sings and plays guitar and piano) and his bass-playing younger brother, Martin. In the group's early days, McAloon spun several fanciful tales about the origin of their odd name (one favorite was that the young McAloon had misheard the line "hotter than a pepper sprout" in Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood's "Jackson"), but the prosaic truth is that an adolescent McAloon had devised the meaningless name in homage to the longwinded and equally silly band names of his late-'60s/early-'70s youth. With an early fan, Wendy Smith, drafted into the lineup to sing helium-register backing vocals, the trio released its first single, "Lions in My Own Garden (Exit Someone)," on its own Candle label in July 1982. Written for a girlfriend who had left Newcastle to study in Limoges, France (check the acronym of the title), the song was exceedingly clever but obviously heartfelt. The single's warm reception, including many plays on John Peel's radio show, led to the Sprout's signing to CBS subsidiary Kitchenware Records, which reissued the single in April 1983. Another single, "The Devil Has All the Best Tunes," followed later that year.

Prefab Sprout's first album, Swoon, was released in March 1984. Containing neither of the first two singles (but leading off with the delightful "Don't Sing," their third), Swoon is in retrospect a surprisingly brittle record, full of difficult songs that take unexpected left turns and have all but impenetrable lyrics. That said, there are more ideas per bar in Swoon than in any chart record released in 1984, and the songs' charms reveal themselves after a few listens. Shortly after Swoon's release, drummer Neil Conti joined the group, and in a rather brilliant move, Thomas Dolby was tapped to produce the second Prefab Sprout album, 1985's Steve McQueen (retitled Two Wheels Good in the U.S. due to litigation from the late actor's estate). Dolby smoothes out the kinks a bit, and his keyboards help enrich the album's sound; it also helps that the songs are much better, lyrically opaque but not impenetrable and melodically satisfying. Prefab Sprout returned to the studio without Dolby in the summer of 1985 and quickly recorded an album's worth of material that was initially meant to be released in a limited edition as a tour souvenir. However, several months after Steve McQueen was released, its song "When Love Breaks Down" (which had been released as a single four different times in the U.K. without chart success) finally became a hit, and CBS feared a new album would hurt its predecessor's sales, so the project was shelved.

The "proper" follow-up to Steve McQueen was 1988's From Langley Park to Memphis. Although it was their biggest hit, thanks to the massive U.K. chart success of "The King of Rock and Roll" (about a one-hit wonder stuck performing his silly novelty song on the nostalgia circuit forever; ironically, it was Prefab Sprout's sole U.K. Top Ten hit and remains their best-known song) and the U.S. college radio success of the genial Bruce Springsteen parody "Cars and Girls," many Prefab Sprout fans consider this the group's weakest album due to the too-slick production and a few subpar tunes. Following that chart action, CBS dusted off the shelved acoustic project from 1985 and released it (in the U.K. only) under the title Protest Songs in June 1989. Issued in 1990, Jordan: The Comeback, which McAloon describes as a concept album about Jesse James and Elvis Presley, was released to enormous critical acclaim in late 1990, but unfortunately, its ornate, lush production and suite-like structure doomed it to commercial failure in the U.S., though it was another big hit in the U.K. A fine but unimaginative best-of, A Life of Surprises, met similar respective fates in the summer of 1992.

Many thought Prefab Sprout disbanded at that point, and indeed, Conti did leave the band at some point in the '90s. However, McAloon had written (and in some cases, recorded) several albums' worth of material during the first half of the decade, abandoning them all before finally releasing the crystalline Andromeda Heights in 1997. The album wasn't even released in the U.S., but it was another deserved U.K. hit. An album of subtle beauty, Andromeda Heights shows how far McAloon had come as a songwriter and singer since Swoon.

A much-improved two-disc anthology, The 38 Carat Collection, was released by CBS in 1999 as the group was leaving the label. (Unexpectedly, the group's U.S. label, Epic, belatedly reissued this set as The Collection in early 2001.) Smith left the group during this period, after the birth of her first child. Prefab Sprout, by this point consisting solely of the McAloon brothers, signed to EMI in late 2000 and delivered their Western-themed concept album, The Gunman and Other Stories, in early 2001. Unfortunately, the album's release was delayed several months when Paddy McAloon was diagnosed with a medical disorder rendering him partially blind. After an eight-year layoff, McAloon returned to recording as Prefab Sprout and released the self-produced, performed, and recorded Let's Change the World with Music. This set's songs and concept date to 1992 and were originally to be recorded as the follow-up album to Jordan: The Comeback; for various reasons, those sessions never happened. It was initially issued by Ministry of Sound and later in the year licensed by Sony/BMG in the U.K. In 2010, the independent Tompkins Square imprint issued the album in the United States. Both the album Crimson/Red and its lead single, "The Best Jewel Thief in the World," landed on the Icebreaker label in 2013. ~ Stewart Mason
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Crimson/Red

1. The Best Jewel Thief In The World

2. List Of Impossible Things

3. Adolescence

4. Grief Built The Taj Mahal

5. Devil Came A Calling

6. Billy

7. The Dreamer

8. The Songs Of Danny Galway

9. The Old Magician

10. Mysterious

x

Track List: The Best Of Prefab Sprout: A Life Of Surprises

1. The King Of Rock 'N' Roll

2. When Love Breaks Down

3. The Sound Of Crying

4. Faron Young

5. Carnival 2000

6. Goodbye Lucille #1 (Johnny Johnny)

7. I Remember That

8. Cruel

9. Cars And Girls

10. We Let The Stars Go

11. Life Of Surprises

12. Appetite

13. If You Don't Love Me

14. Wild Horses

15. Hey Manhattan!

16. All The World Loves Lovers

x

Track List: Jordan: The Comeback

1. Looking For Atlantis

2. Wild Horses

3. Machine Gun Ibiza

4. We Let The Stars Go

5. Carnival 2000

6. Jordan: The Comeback

7. Jesse James Symphony

8. Jesse James Bolero

9. Moon Dog

10. All The World Loves Lovers

11. All Boys Believe Anything

12. The Ice Maiden

13. Paris Smith

14. The Wedding March

15. One Of The Broken

16. Michael

17. Mercy

18. Scarlet Nights

19. Doo Wop In Harlem

x

Track List: Steve McQueen

x

Track List: Swoon

1. Don't Sing

2. Cue Fanfare

3. Green Isaac

5. Cruel

6. Couldn't Bear to Be Special

7. I Never Play Basketball Now

8. Ghost Town Blues

9. Elegance

10. Technique

x

Track List: Protest Songs

1. The World Awake

2. Life Of Surprises

3. Horsechimes

4. Wicked Things

5. Dublin

6. Tiffanys

7. Diana

8. Talking Scarlet

9. 'Til The Cows Come Home

10. Pearly Gates

Comments

Report as inappropriate
wenberep
bobonnit doesn't them so they must be good. I'll have to go check out a few of their albums.
Report as inappropriate
Boring. Contrived. Formulaic. That is why they failed to gain a big following. Now, as in then, I am giving them a thumbs down for failing to entertain me.
Report as inappropriate
I am another American fan of Prefab Sprout who doesn't understand why they didn't become big in the U.S. Never heard them on most of the hit stations. Became aware of the Prefab Sprout on an album track station from Chicago WXRT. Two Wheels Good was their absolute best album, and Paddy McAloons writting was good all the way to The Gunman & Other Stories. However I think his newer melodies (although I can find a tune now and then that I can enjoy) has become sort of bland.
Report as inappropriate
Just an amazing sound. Stupid that they were not big in the U.S... Two Wheels Good does not have a flaw on it!!!! "Desire As" Is Epic...... You know your amazing when other bands of the ERA like Depeche and Duran say how amazing they are.
Report as inappropriate
Steve McQueen, perhaps one of the best albums I've heard in my 50+ years!
Report as inappropriate
sandradmaui
Jordon is an album worthy of a start to finish must have in any classic collection
Report as inappropriate
You know how a particular song or collection of songs can become the sound track for an exceptional period in one's life? This album is one of those. If ever a musical endeavor took on a life of its own, this one does.
Report as inappropriate
rmccarthy004
It's too bad this group isn't still going strong. They had a great sound.
Report as inappropriate
I love this group! Thier music is so smooooth!!!!
Report as inappropriate
brings me back to high school optimism and the fresh stylish pop of the 80's.
Report as inappropriate
hix82
what a great band!!! The US missed out on this one. Jordan: The Comeback is a must hear!!!
Report as inappropriate
amazing band waiting to be discovered! One of my favorites now & i never heard of them before 2008!
Report as inappropriate
When Love Breaks Down, undboubtedly one of the best love songs ever written!
Report as inappropriate
The best music I've heard anywhere.
Report as inappropriate
nathanmmyers 9
One of the best songwriters of the 20th Century.
Report as inappropriate
<3 Ghost Town Blues.
Report as inappropriate
Play Album
Report as inappropriate
silvergreyho u n d 2
What a shame an amazing band underappreci a t e d .

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