Prefab Sprout
Protest Songs
(Kitchenware 465118)

"What do you do/When you're Paddy McAloo" might very well be the worst opening line to any song ever, even if it is unwritten. Well, maybe Prince could pull it off, though my "musical bookie" just informed me the latest odds of this occurence is 18,000,000:1, and that's even graciously acknowledging the Artist's prolific nature.

Come to think of it, Paddy's no lazy-ass either. He himself has alluded to stockpiling completely written, yet unrecorded, concept albums about winter, Michael Jackson, the history of the world, etc. – much to a mixture of delight and frustration among Sprout fans. Hence, the official release of Protest Songs was a tantalizing offering to the folk who had spent countless days listening to the huge productions of Steve McQueen and Jordan: The Comeback, thinking to themselves "Boy, why don't Paddy and the band hop in the studio and knock out a handful of more conventional sounding pop songs, with a rougher Swoon-esque production, just to get some more music to the public? It'll be mind-blowing!"

Yes, like most music in theory, it would be "mind-blowing". Except that itit wouldn't – apparently the imaginary person I was quoting a few lines ago was either an ultra-hardcore fan or a Anglophile stalker off his medication … er, what was it I was talking about?

Ah, yes, Prefab. If their indie debut Swoon (critics like to use terms like "quirky" and "charming" for such a record) is the nearly direct antithesis of 1997's lush Andromeda Heights, then Protest Songs would lean about two-thirds in the direction of the former on whatever nonexistent Prefab barometer I just invented for the sole purpose of making a point that I'm not sure I succeeded in making.

Granted, had anyone scaled their way past that wordy and awkward analogy, they'd hopefully hear me declare that Protest Songs has much more conventional pop songwriting than the one-of-a-kind twists on Swoon, and seemingly a modest increase in production budget as well. Ok, ok, I'll give in … yes, it's "charming." The album makes even more sense when you discover it was recorded in between Steve McQueen and From Langley Park To Memphis (around '86) and went unreleased until 1991. Hence, the "for the fans" feel seems more appropriate now, yes?

Enough about the rougher production … how're the songs? Some stellar, some not so stellar. The album kicks off with a couple of rough gems "The World Awake" and "Life Of Surprises," then divebombs into the pretentious landmine that is "Horsechimes," which is just musically nauseating, and it's difficult to perceive whether Paddy thought it was "clever clever" at the time. A certified skip every time, and quite possibly the worst Prefab song out there.

"Wicked Things" features a Motown beat, though the song never delivers like you would expect it too. "Dublin," just Paddy & a guitar, is nice, though I can see how this song gets under some fans' nerves or skin, whatever the particular case might be. Contrasted with the short yet stellar Andromeda Heights b-side "Dragons," (covered by Jimmy Nail) "Dublin" falls a bit short.

On to side 2, which kicks off with my favorite Sprout song, the fun "Tiffany's," which features some great, great chords and a "charming" guitar solo. Speaking of which, Paddy McAloon is an incredible guitarist, but rarely shows offhis chops on record. Chalk one up for the benefits of understatement.

From here, the album slowly sinks into either murk or comfort, all dependent on the weather outside that day, I suppose. "Diana," a much slower take of a previous Prefab b-side, serves its purpose, but is infinitely more interesting when contrasted to its previous version than in and of itself. The album goes on from here, alternately soothing and stinging. "Talking Scarlet," "When The Cows Come Home," "Pearly Gates."

I guess that's Prefab in a nutshell, sort of like a weeklong opium binge. You're incredibly high for an unknown period of time, letting your mind flow unconciously, forgetting to eat or bathe, until you realize you just missed your daughter's first piano recital and swear you'll stay off the junk forever. Until next week rolls around, and you're back on like the dog you are.

Review by AAA