[sic] Magazine

Prefab Sprout – Crimson/Red

If there is such a thing as musical heaven then the announcement of a new album by Paddy McAloon is the very entry through the Pearly Gates. Crimson/Red is essentially the widely leaked Devil came a calling and even though the Prefab Sprout name is attached to it there is no sign of the band. This album again draws on songs from the huge McAloon musical vault that go back to the nineties, indeed the most recent on this album is some two years old. The resulting album is one that echoes his best work. It revisits the frameworks of prime era McAloon albeit sticking to the ‘songwriting knitting’ and eschewing some of his more clever excesses (songs such as ‘One of the Broken’ would undoubtedly be recognised as one the greatest ballads ever if it didn’t have ‘God’ narrating it). The upshot of this is a more straightforward approach on Crimson/Red that will delight anyone who loves Prefab Sprout with a passion and deeply admires one of the best songwriters this Island has ever produced.

All is well from the outset. Opener ‘The Best Jewel Thief in the World’ starts with sirens and develops into one of those effortless pop gems that McAloon sings as if a week has barely passed since recording his masterpiece Steve McQueen in 1985. His voice is truly remarkable. Listen to the gorgeous and wistful ‘List of impossible things’ where only a lyricist as gifted as him could fit in Abstract Expression into its word play. The bubbling ‘Adolescence’ is jam packed with hooks and melody, and many will note the similarly between ‘Devil came a calling’ with the urgent drive of ‘Faron Young’ . In it McAloon has a tryst with Old Nick and wittily observes that “The Devil came a-calling, no brimstone fire and rain/In fact, I found him charming, articulate, urbane” . A clear stand out on Crimson/Red is the harmonica driven ‘Billy’ a song which sees McAloon at his joyous best. The excellent acoustic driven country sounding ‘Old Magician’ tells of a fading talent and regrets that “death is a lousy disappearing act” , while the concluding ‘Mysterious’ is a lush gently rolling ballad. This is topped however by the longest song on the album the beautiful ‘The Dreamer’ which will melt the hearts of those it touches. Finally the ‘Songs of Danny Galway’ is plain great and the whole album wonderfully produced by that Scottish wizard of the mixing desk Calum Malcolm .

McAloon recently admitted in a detailed interview with the Scotsman that Crimson/Red is essentially a cherry pick from his long awaited unfinished projects such as Earth – The story so far accumulated over the last 15 years. It is a sort of greatest hits collection of unreleased material the oldest of which is 1997s dramatic ‘Grief built the Taj Mahal. Everyone is aware that a range of health problems not least severe tinnitus has in turn compounded McAloon’s obsessive perfectionism. Whether the gap to the next Prefab Sprout album will again be a matter of years is a matter for conjecture. It is great to hear that McAloon’s health has improved more recently and he is actively promoting this album. Music so badly needs this ‘Old Magician’ particularly if he has more albums quite this good up his sleeve.

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