Prefab Sprout mainman releases extraordinary "talking book" opus

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Score 5

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A Different Wavelength

Paddy McAloon’s solo album is like no other record you’ve heard. It’s strange, beautiful, serene, perverse and almost unbearably sad.

Prefab Sprout’s last album, The Gunman (2001), was a tad too… limpid. That band (who do have an album due this year) is about McAloon’s delicate melodies and deft lyrics. Though there have been murmurs for years of him doing unreleased, insane, maverick concept albums in his spare time, nothing of that ilk had yet emerged.

Well, here it is. He’s got in touch with his inner Zappa/Prince/Rowland and composed a bold, astonishing piece of music that will do your heart in. Mostly instrumental, it’s Vivaldi meets Badalamenti, and its stately irrelevance to musical trends is so fabulously fearless you feel like whooping. If this is a grand folly, it’s as grand as they come.

It’s all about the 21-minute title track. After that, there are six less strong instrumentals (with forlorn names like “Fall From Grace”, “Orchid 7” and “I’m 49″), wherein McAloon proves he’ll be Britain’s finest soundtrack composer before long. And there’s one song?”Sleeping Rough”?where, by now unexpectedly, he sings, “I am lost, yes I’m lost…” It’s all the more effective as we’d given up on hearing that plaintive voice.

But…that opening. I’ve just told him it’s like Philip Glass, Eno or Tubular Bells and he didn’t seem offended. Over strings, brass and what you might call “ambience”, a woman (one Yvonne Connors) reads sentences compiled by McAloon from radio chat and news shows. His eye problems mean he can’t read much now, so he’s become addicted to radio talk, culling from it juxtapositions of the personal and political. Love’s plane comes down behind enemy lines. She gives you a name; you grow into it. Tramp or prince, you learn the language. I’m paraphrasing. The whole idea of Megahertz is, I think, that you read into it what you will.

It’s big enough to allow that. If you have any love of the romantic gesture, the flying-in-the-face-of-fashion operatic swandive, you’ll bask in this work of gentle genius.