From Langley Park to Memphis (Epic 44208)
One of four albums Prefab Sprout recorded in the 1980s within a 5-year time span ("As opposed to the whopping two new studio albums over seven years in the 90s," the eternal Sprout fan in me grumbles), Langley Park certainly isn't the most solid album in the Prefab canon, or the most timeless neither. Even so, average Prefab is mightier than the mightiest Matchbox 20, for instance, and besides, there are scattered moments of pure genius that make the overall experience worthwhile.
Man, looking back at that paragraph, I might as well just cut and paste it for the ending, too. Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, and tell 'em what you just told 'em, my drill sergeant used to say to us back at the correctional facility. (?)
The album kicks off blissfully with "The King of Rock & Roll," Paddy's impossibly perfect pop song which semi-ironically tells the tale of a washed up one-hit wonder. Critics were once inclined to call this song Paddy's "My Ding-A-Ling," though such a comparison is such a knee-jerk, mindless dumbshit thing to say. For one, people don't remember Chuck Berry for that shrunken doop of a song if anything it's for his countless duckwalks on 80s & 90s variety shows, right? that, or the pornography-related arrests.
And at any rate, Paddy has had other "hits," and "The King of Rock & Roll" is anything but mindless more like a song ABOUT a mindless song and what's so mindless about a song whose chorus is "Hot Dog/Jumping Frog/Alberquerque" anyway? Er, actually I think in my knee-jerk defensiveness I just whacked my argument in the knee with that last remark.
"Scratch that from the record," a staid Sam Waterston would state, and so I'll continue onwards, counselor. "Cars & Girls" might be the first (and only?) mainstream pop song directly telling "Brucie" Springsteen that there's more to songwriting than those two subjects, and while such an act brings a smile to the face (a bigger smile would be accrued if Green Day covered this song today, just for sheer irrelevance), the song is not particularly endearing in the long run.
Stylistically, the album is all over the map, most likely due to the number of different producers involved (I believe the story goes that Thomas Dolby started producing this one as well, then got "sick" and had to bow out).
There is a slick layer of shimmery late 80s coating throughout, which by the very nature of Prefab Sprout, actually doesn't hurt the album as much as it would, say Tom Petty but arguably some of the songs would probably have benefitted arrangement-wise from more natural settings. The jazz-standard-waiting-to- be-discovered "Nightingales" is a perfect example: where a jazz combo might have rendered it timeless right off the bat, Prefab bestow upon it a fairly static arrangement of Scritti Politti synths & bell tree throughout.
Maybe I'm just bitter that Paddy has gone on record saying that he doesn't want to be a "human jukebox," and hearing him performing another version in the future is highly, highly doubtful. Well, it's not like this version is unlistenable - quite the contrary, and anyway you can never go wrong with a Stevie Wonder harmonica solo. Thank God John Popper wasn't around back then. *shudder*
As for other arrangements, it was decent foresight on their behalf to use real strings on another song I respect but don't necessarily enjoy, "Hey Manhattan!" In fact, I would probably argue that besides "King of Rock & Roll," album tracks like "Knock on Wood," "Enchanted," and the charming "Nancy (Let Your Hair Down For Me)" (about a man whose wife's his boss and is trying to rekindle their romance) are better than the "singles" here. Besides, Paddy's always had a bit of a warped idea of what is a "hit" anyhow, which is charming in its own way. Sheesh, mighty opinionated today, ain't I?
One of four albums Prefab Sprout recorded in the 1980s within a five-year time span ("as opposed to the whopping two new studio albums over seven years in the 90s", the eternal Sprout fan in me grumbles), Langley Park certainly isn't the most solid album in the Prefab canon, or the most timeless neither. Even so, average Prefab is mightier than the mightiest Matchbox 20, for instance, and besides, there are scattered moments of pure genius that make the overall experience worthwhile.
Ugh, didn't think I'd stoop so low, did you? Of course you did. Ah, well, you should have.
Review by AAA