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New Musical Express

AUGUST 18th, 1990


Jordan: The Comeback


If  Paddy McAloon were Matt Johnson, he’d already have put out an earnest press release claiming that ‘Jordan’ was thus entitled because it foresaw the current Gulf crisis’.However, he’s not; he’s Paddy McAloon. Thank God. Or Somebody.‘Jordan’ is, in fact, about a completely different crisis: the one where someone called ‘Tricky Disco’ can get into the Top 20 by recording a car alarm going off. Paddy remembers a bygone age where songs mattered and words meant - and it is this pre-crisis Protestant songwriting ethic that he’s hell-bent on reviving.

If you think about it (heaven forbid), a lot of remembering goes on in Paddy McAloon’s world. And what a very large world it is: well over an hour long, and jam-packed with 19 songs, ‘Jordan: The Comeback’ sees Durham’s top entertainer and singer remembering as far back as the Wild West and Biblical times.While today’s thrusting Pop Singer preoccupies himself with looking down at the cut of his trousers and the colour of the dancefloor, trust Old Paddy to gaze longingly back, to an era which probably never existed in the first place.Only Prefab Sprout would bother ‘Looking For Atlantis’ in these times.Desperately, almost painfully unfashionable, Prefab Sprout can only grow in divine stature as the Pop World in which they find themselves gets ever more artless, visceral and catch phrase oriented.

‘Some expressions take me back . . .’ sighed Paddy on the ‘83 debut ‘Swoon’, and with that, gave the whole game away. As the ‘80's slid past, Prefab Sprout’s yen to recreate a little bit of old-time craftsmanship became less a misguided student whim and more like a mission from God.Or Somebody.

When you’re enthralled by a track like ‘The Wedding March’, and the nearest reference point you can mutter from your own recent musical experience is the theme from Paddington, you know you’re listening to music in a ‘different’ kitchen.‘I remember King David/With his harp and his beautiful, beautiful songs’ croons Pad on supreme almost-Country ballad ‘One Of The Broken’, flirting with the religions theme that lent this album it’s title.To call it a concept album would be a little forced (although this is the one band that could pull off such a concept well, it’s not going to damage their punk credibility any, is it?). Some of the tracks fade into one another without nice gaps, and an Elvis/Jesus motif cropping up, but in truth the only ‘concept’ here is one of farting about with the past.

As ever, the angelic harmonising of Wendy Smith ties the whole shebang up stylistically, an if she is a Bez, as is so often hinted at by a sexist music press, then long may she contribute f... all and sound like this. While ‘Jordan’ enjoys many a musical costume change, from the humid funk of ‘machine gun ibiza’ to the AOR gallop of ‘Scarlet Nights’, the sheer quality of the vocals holds it together.

Paddy and Wend counterpoint one another famously, lending a heavenly glow to those religious bits, not least the parting shot ‘Doo-wop In Harlem’ where they trill the words ‘Acapella meets pure prayer /Somewhere’ over an effective ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ organ.

This is one of ‘Jordan’s’ pure moments, an uncluttered interlude employed to heighten the dynamic tension of meatier production numbers like the huge ‘Looking For Atlantis’ single and a monster thudalong called ‘Michael’ (Is Paddy taking it? We may never know). Producer Thomas Dolby is a fine sculptor of Big Music; less a wall more an elaborate Patio of Sound. And as well-known King Of Funny Noises, he peppers stuff like ‘Wild Horses’ with many a beguiling studio ‘effect’.

Yes, there is a fair degree of subtle humour in play here (Paddy’s not an ardent Vic Reeves fan for nothing). References to a blood group called ‘rhesus bad’ and ‘Daddies shaking fists at hidden communists’ may not be the stuff of a Jim Davidson routine, but when Dolby throws in some clip-clop horsey-hoof noises on ‘Jesse James’ and rattlesnake sounds to emphasise the word ‘rattlesnakes’ on ‘Jordan’, you just know that these people aren't taking the business of being serious too seriously.Paddy Mac is the first person to laugh at himself, and the second, probably when his passion for the English language gets him labelled as ‘intellectual’ by sad, sneering Class War types. The lyrics on ‘Jordan’ are less Americana-fixated than ‘From Langley Park To Memphis’ (apart from the odd ‘zip code’ or ‘boulevard’) but just as archly inventive; loaded with promise and knee-deep in grace, if you like.

Any comedowns? Well, a trifle like ‘All Boys Believe Anything’ is a little too delicate to stomach, and reeks of a transparent New Man guilt complex in sentiment. But this is a minor gripe. especially when overshadowed by such superguns as ‘Carnival 2000’, a regular Modern Romance styled Mardi Gras that Barry Manilow might attempt with a mere fraction of the charm and clarity, and the title track itself, featuring a moody, method-grumble verse that Matt Johnson would be proud of. These are indeed beautiful. beautiful songs; and songs that will be remembered too.

The word ‘classy’ no longer has a place in the vigilant reviewer’s vocabulary. And this is a great pity, because if it ever meant anything, it meant Prefab Sprout. Cue Fanfare (again).


9 / 10