Paddy McAloon is the most under-rated songwriter in Britain. Despite being responsible for some of the most perfectly crafted pop music of the last twenty years, he’s still mainly known as “the guy who did that ‘Jumping Frogs’ song”.
Unfair, as a quick listen to McAloon’s band Prefab Sprout’s discography will tell you. In Steve McQueen and Jordan The Comeback they created two damn near perfect albums, and When Love Breaks Down is still guaranteed to move a heart of stone.
I Trawl The Megahertz is McAloon’s first solo album, and it’s easy to see why he decided not to release this under the Sprouts banner. Gone are the witty and literate wordplay and plantitive melodies. In their place are strings, a mournful horn section and a mammoth spoken word track.
The seeds of this mostly instrumental album were sown five years ago when McAloon discovered he was losing his sight thanks to a damaged retina (he’s now made a full recovery happily). Denied the pleasure of reading a book, he retreated into listening to the radio, mainly late night talk shows.
Perhaps the album’s most audacious moment is the title track. This 21 minute long epic begins with an uplifting string section before American actress Yvonne Conners intones “I’m telling myself the story of my life”. What follows is a splicing together of stories and anecdotes apparently inspired by the said late night talk shows.
It should be a mess, but it works beautifully. The lush orchestration is a perfect backdrop to Conners’ voice, and intriguing lyrics such as “twelve days in Paris and I’m waiting for my life to start” means that you can’t help but listen with rapt attention. It’s reminiscent of a less cynical Black Box Recorder and the sheer ambition of the track is astonishing.
The remainder of the album is the old staple, a soundtrack for an imaginary film. The pace is pretty much constant with the string section threatening to become overpowerful after a while. McAloon himself only contributes vocals on one track, Sleeping Rough. “I’m lost, I’m lost…I’ll grow a long and silver beard and let it reach my knees” he mournfully croons and given the circumstances that the album was written in, it’s impossible not to be moved.
I Trawl The Megahertz won’t be to everyone’s taste – in fact you get the feeling that most people will probably be a bit baffled by the whole thing. However anyone looking for intelligent, rewarding listening can’t go far wrong with this – it’s good to have McAloon back, and hopefully the next Sprouts album will soon be upon us.