Prefab Sprout fans rejoiced in 2009 when ‘Let’s Change The World With Music’ was finally released to the public. Emerging from one of the almost mythical batch of albums which Paddy McAloon had locked away in his vaults, forever destined to be unheard, it was the first new Prefab Sprout album since 2001’s ‘The Gunman And Other Stories’. Created in 1993, the production was very much of its time but the songs were a reminder of one of Britain’s finest songwriters. ‘Crimson Red’ is another new album and one which cherry picks from the famed McAloon archives.
The story begins in almost vintage Prefab Sprout fashion. The keyboard melody and police sirens would be naive and kitschy in other people’s hands but this is an artist clearly still in love with music. The song in question, ‘The Best Jewel Thief In The World’, contains a wonderfully joyful melody and Paddy even gives us a few blasts of his trusty harmonica. Far from being a traditionalist, on this particular record, McAloon performs better the more risks he takes and the more vibrant the arrangement, the better the song sounds.
The grand keyboard washes of ‘Adolescence’ (“it’s a psychedelic motorbike” apparently) enchants whilst ‘Grief Built The Taj Mahal’ is a subtler number but the Eastern arrangement is a delight. Furthermore, the rattling and rumbling ‘Devil Came A Calling’ (easily the nearest the album approaches a level of menace) is the closest he will come to writing ‘Faron Young Part 2’. Yet the centrepiece is ‘Billy’, an autobiographical piece which exemplifies all we expect from Paddy; the song is so bright and colourful (“Her smile is like a fairground, I’m basking in the glow”) that it’s hard not to listen to it without a smile. Along a similar idealistic line is ‘The Dreamer’ and although it’s a little too light on drama, the instrumental sections are wonderful. A couple of other songs, however, ‘List Of Impossible Things’ and ‘The Songs Of Danny Galway’, rarely rise above a status of pleasant but they are resolutely tuneful.
Overall, ‘Crimson Red’ isn’t quite up there with classics ‘Steve McQueen’ and ‘Jordan: The Comeback’ and it would be unfair to expect them to be but ‘Crimson Red’ is a statement record, which really does show the young music makers that it matters not how many bells and whistles you add to your production, what matters are great songs and this album has plenty. Rest assured, McAloon is still, to quote the title of one of his songs, the last of the great romantics.