three years on From Langley Park To Memphis, Prefab Sprout are once again
produced by Thomas Dolby, and on first impression there's no obvious
advancement. There are only three songs of the Hey Manhattan calibre:
The World Loves Lovers, the kind of swooping, breathy confection that, were
he about 60 years younger, Frank Sinatra would be doing with equal panache;
Doo Wop In Harlem, very nearly a cappella with Paddy McAloon balanced
against a gently churning organ; and We Let The Stars Go Out, the crooning
of a man clearly in love with love, rescued from slushiness by Paddy
McAloon's convincingly bright-eyed naivety.
But, given a few plays, the overall depth of the work becomes apparent.
Jordan takes far more risks than From Langley Park To Memphis and pulls them
off with a swagger, indicating the scale of understanding between Paddy
McAloon and Thomas Dolby. The former supplies solid, reliable pop songs, the
latter embellishes them with layers of unusual instrumentation, moulding
them into orchestral adventures of epic proportions. Even a 30-second
half-explored doodle like All Boys Believe Anything becomes fascinating in
its mix of (what sounds like) woodwind, a harp and a harmonica.
Just as startling is Jesse James Symphony, a soft, deceptively
complicated affair that eases seamlessly into a thumping bolero, stirring in
more than a couple of coy references to the soundtrack of The Good, The Bad
& The Ugly. It manages to recreate a feel from the past, but sets it in
an entirely modern context. This is true of much of the album: the oddly
titled Machine Gun Ibiza, for example, is a slab of electronic blues
involving wah-wah guitars and echoed percussion, translating Curtis Mayfield
circa 1972 into 1990.
Most impressive, though, is Jordan's comprehensiveness of arrangement.
Never losing sight of the original rhythms and melodies, it fills every nook
and cranny with sounds, and can either transform a simple sketch like Paris
Smith into a shimmering canvas of emotion, or subtly build up the more
powerful starters-Samba 2000 and Looking For Atlantis - into overwhelming pop
toccatas. And the real beauty of the whole thing is that the participants
are so relaxed about what they're doing, it's all shot through with the
driest of humour.