Guest post by Nick Zanca (Mister Lies)
Anyone who has heard Prefab Sprout’s music at length knows that they are a band with zero-percent middle ground. You’re either enamored by their theatricality and ebullience or you find it incredibly irritating – but that’s not to say they aren’t a taste worth acquiring. For those uninitiated, the band was at the forefront of the British “sophisti-pop” movement alongside Scritti Politti, The Blue Nile and Aztec Camera – meaning heavy use of MIDI programming and plenty of early digital production gymnastics. What set them apart from their peers was frontman Paddy McAloon’s consistently highbrow songwriting chops – which, at their best, were wittier than Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter combined. Admired by the likes of Phil Collins, Arthur Russell, and Stevie Wonder (who would contribute harmonica on their song “Nightingales”), they are easily one of the UK’s best kept secrets.
On first listen, Jordan: The Comeback can be overwhelming – it’s deeply intricate, it covers a lot of ground sonically (gospel, samba, doo-wop and vaudeville) and plays more like a original cast album of a forgotten musical than a conventional pop record. For a songwriter who refers to himself in his own music as the “Fred Astaire of words,” McAloon dances around ambitious subject matter like nobody’s business – over the course of 19 tracks there are songs about the fall of Jesse James and the resurrection of Elvis before he assumes the character of God (!) on “One Of The Broken.” Along for the ride is the band’s longtime friend and producer, Thomas Dolby, contributing the technicolor digital synthscapes that act as the record’s constant.
This is an album full of surprises by one of my all-time favorites. Anyone who isn’t down to get cheesy might want to skip, but fair warning – you’ll fall head-over-heels for this album if you let yourself. Easily up there with Clube da Esquina or Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1 as one of the most rewarding deep listens over an hour long.
(For anyone who hasn’t dived into their work yet, I might suggest checking out their album Steve McQueen first as it’s a little easier to digest – but know that most of the Prefab die-hards I know consider Jordan to be the magnum opus, myself included.)