The phrase that strikes home again and again is: 'I said: your Daddy loves you very...
Chris Jones 2003
Paddy McAloon's name is usually whispered in the same breath as other practitioners of the elusive beast known as Perfect Pop. People such as Todd Rundgren and Brian Wilson: sophisticates who know as much about George Gershwin's role in the evolution of modern popular song as that of Busted. Yet aficionados know that the increasingly sporadic releases by his band Prefab Sprout have displayed a wilful eccentricity. For example, their last songcycle the Gunman And Other Stories was a western-themed extravaganza. Yet nothing will have prepared his fans for this.
McAloon recently suffered a temporary blindness that left him house-bound. Finding solace in short wave radio transmissions he began recording and transcribing the snippets of conversation and ephemera. The result is I Trawl The Megahertz: a nine track project so personal and removed from his previous work that it's been released under his own name. Aided by arranger, David McGuinness and classical crossover ensemble Mr McFall's Chamber, Paddy has fashioned a work of troubling beauty.
The album is dominated by its opening title track: A 22-minute orchestral piece with a recurring motif, overlaid by the soft American voice of Yvonne Connors intoning poetry formed from McAloon's random dips into the ether. If on first listen it sounds pretentious, fear not. Once contextualized this becomes a deeply moving autobiographical ode to isolation, loss and heartache. It's as if McAloon's well-proven gift for aching melody and erudite love songs has, due to his enforced immobility, been subsumed into a purer and more abstract medium. The phrase that strikes home again and again is: 'I said: your Daddy loves you very much, he just doesn't want to live with us any more.' This is the sound of one man thinking about dark stuff...
The rest of I Trawl consists of instrumentals that veer from lush reiterations of the main theme ("We Were Poor" and its companion piece "...But We Were Happy"), jazzy vamps ("Fall From Grace") and almost Zappaesque technical exercises ("Esprit De Corps"). Yet you are never far from reminders of the sadness and regret that suffuses the mind of the composer. "I'm 49" contains samples from McAloon's radio explorations with the underlying theme of separation and loneliness ('What's wrong? I'm 49 and I'm divorced') while the only vocal track, "Sleeping Rough" ruminates on the ageing process ("I shall grow a long silver beard...").
Such a deeply personal project will probably never recapture those people that bought Steve Mcqueen the first time around. But for all of us at a particular stage in life this is a poignant reminder of the healing power of music. One can only hope that it worked for McAloon himself. Gorgeous.