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Friday, February 13, 2015

Prefab Sprout - From Langley Park to Memphis~, Jordan: the Comeback*

Name: Prefab Sprout
Album(s): From Langley Park to Memphis~, Jordan: The Comeback*
Years: 1988~, 1990*
Style: Light Pop, Jangle Pop
Similar Bands: Aztec Camera, Tears for Fears, Michael Penn, Trash Can Sinatras, Beautiful South, Lilac Time, ABC, Thomas Dolby, Scritti Politti, late-period Squeeze,
One Word Review: Wispy Lite Jazzy-Jams
Based Out Of: Witton Gilbert, Country Durham, England
Labels: Epic~*, Rollmo'~, Kitchenware Records~*, CBS Records~*, 
From Langley Park to Memphis - Cover, Lyrics, Record
From Langley Park to Memphis - Back, Lyrics, Record 
Jordan: The Comeback: Cover, Back, Liner Notes
Jordan: The Comeback: Liner Notes & Tape
From Langley Park to Memphis (1988)
  1. The Kings of Rock N' Roll 4:22
  2. Cars and Girls 4:24
  3. I Remember That 4:13
  4. Enchanted 3:47
  5. Nightingales 5:51 / 
  6. Hey Manhattan! 4:45
  7. Knock on Wood 4:15
  8. The Golden Calf 5:05
  9. Nancy (Don't Let Your Hair Down For Me) 4:01
  10. The Venus of the Soup Kitchen 4:29
Jordan: The Comeback (1990)
  1. Looking for Atlantis 4:00
  2. Wild Horses 3:44
  3. Machine Gun Ibiza 3:43
  4. We Let the Stars Go 3:35
  5. Carnival 2000 3:22
  6. Jordan: the Comeback 4:12
  7. Jesse James Symphony 2:15
  8. Jesse James Bolero 4:09
  9. Moondog 4:08/ 
  10. All the World Loves Lovers 3:50
  11. All Boys Believe Anything 1:34
  12. The Ice Maiden 3:19
  13. Paris Smith 2:55
  14. The Wedding March 2:46
  15. One of the Broken 3:52
  16. Michael 3:02
  17. Mercy 1:22
  18. Scarlet Nights 4:14
  19. Doo-Wop in Harlem 3:44
Album Ratings (1-10):~6.5

Members & Other Bands:
Paddy McAloon - Vox, Guitar, Keys, Producer~*
Jon Kelly - Producer, Engineer~
Thomas Dolby - Producer, Keys~*
Andy Richards - Producer, Keys~
Stevie Wonder - Harmonica~
Andrae Crouch Singers - Vox~
Robin Smith - String Arrangement and Conductor~
Mike Ross - String Recording~
Richard Hollywood - String Recording~
Gavin Wright - String Leader~
Mike Shipley - Mixing~
Pete Towshend - Acoustic Guitar~ (Who)
John Altman - String Arrangment & Conductor~
John Timperly - String Recording~
Tony Philips - Mixing, Engineer~
Michael H Brauer - Mixing, Engineer~
Wendy Smith - Percussion~
Lennie Castro - Percussion~
Stephen Male - Design~
Cliff Brigedn - Engineer~
David Concors - Engineer~
David Leonard - Engineer, Mixing~
Gary Olazabal - Engineer~
Geoff Bruckner - Engineer~
Gonzalez Espinoza - Engineer~
Karl Lever - Engineer~
Mark O'Donaghue - Engineer~
Michael Ade - Engineer~
Mickey Sweeney - Engineer~
Peter Jones - Engineer~
Richard Moakes - Engineer, Mixing~
Steve Lyon - Engineer~
Steve Van Day - Engineer~
Terrence Wilson - Engineer~
Tim Hunt- Engineer~
Gary Moberley - Keys~ (Sweet, John Miles, A II Z, ABC, Monroes, The The, Rock & Hyde, Drum Theater, Charlene Smith, The Grove, Gary Windo, Feelabeelia, Onyeka)
George Marino - Mastering~
Luis Jardim - Percussion~*
Martin McAloon - Bass~*
Neil Conti - Drums Percussion (Niles Landgren, Bowie/Jagger, Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, Sandy Shaw, Sid Straw, Toni Halliday, Paul Young, Adventures, Horse, Alison Moyet, Mary Coughlan)~*
Wendy Smith - Vox, Guitar, Keys (John Dyson, Fold, Michael Sims, The Gist, Peter White)~*
Nick Night - Photography~
Muff Winwood - Executive Producer~
Wix - Keys~
The Phantoms - Horns*
Judd Lander - Harmonica*
Jenny Agutter - Vox*
Tim Young - Mastering*
Gerry Judah - Artwork*
Andrew Biscomb - Design*
Peter Barrett - Design*
Adrian Moore - Engineer Asst*
Charlie Smith - Engineer Asst*
Chris Puram - Engineer Asst*
Derek McCartney - Engineer Asst*
Karen White - Engineer Asst*
Mark Williams - Engineer Asst*
Paul Cuddeford - Engineer Asst*
Eric Calvi - Mixing Engineer*
Paul Gomersall - Engineering & Recording*
Bernie Grundman - Mastering*
Douglas Brothers - Photography*
Jonathan Lovekin - Photography*
Trevor Hart - Photography*
Keith Armstrong - Management*
Paul Ludford - Management*
Phil Mitchell - Management*

Unknown-ness: I have heard of Prefab Sprout, and I even picked up a couple albums based on the faint grasp of what they were like. But I do not really know. My mind has them as this dense, complex, non-melodic band that fits in with boring jangly-ness of mid 80's college radio popularity, but I can't recall if I've ever actually LISTENED to any of their songs.

Album Review: Prefab Sporut were a huge band in the 80’s in the UK, but failed to crack the US market at higher than #180. The core of the group are highly praised songwriter Paddy and his brother on bass, Martin McAloon. Their style combines intelligent, witty lyrics and smooth jazzy pop. The first of the two records I have feature cameos from Stevie Wonder & Pete Townshend, and were both produced by the popular Thomas Dolby. It was the highest selling album, but in contrast, is considered a week offering due to lack of solid songs, and slick production. The second was a concept album revolving around Jesse James (apparent) and Elvis Presley.

~“The Kings of Rock N' Roll” was their biggest and best known song in the UK. It starts with a smooth drum beat, and funky bass line. But then overproduced synth effects swoop by, as well as glass candy female la-la-las. Apparently the song is about a one hit wonder forced to repeat the one song forever, which with this being their biggest hit is somewhat ironic. The vocal style has a bit of the Thomas Dolby flair for dramatic line endings. And it sounds like the lyric is “I Want Cookie” (but is really Albequerque). The superficialness of the song and synth produced elements of all of the songs aspects dates the song, and it feels like it could have been concocted in some digital music suite. But the underlying hook in the chorus is catchy, and the effects and layers of vocals keep it interesting.
“Cars and Girls” reached minor US college radio success as a Bruce Springsteen parody. At the beginning, it feels like a slick produced doo-wop song, with the female vocals singing “Bop-Bop-Bop / Sha-doo-ba-doo”. Once the lead vocals begin, it again sounds like Dolby. Some points they are just a whisper, and then they find the energy to whine and extend on a note. The melody in the chorus is a two hilled sweeping hook. This feels like a solid adult contemporary single.
“I Remember That” was released as a single later on to promote a best of compilation. It begins with breathy George Michael like vocals under blanket of synth chimes. The song creeps along, growing into a slow side-to-side melody. I feel like some of the synth effects in this song were used in the Sonic the Hedgehog games. And they were only separated by 3 years, so it was definitely a sound of the times. More vocals step up to the plate and increase the tension as the song sashes out to the end.
“Enchanted” feels like it was stolen right from ABC’s album Alphabet City. It has string plucks and synth notes placed all over the place, yet mixed into the melody. The vocals are light and breathy
“Nightingales” was the 4th single released, and features Wonder on harmonica. It starts out with a style that could delve into Whitney Houston pop R&B or light AM radio fodder. The song whispers along the slow piano driven melody. The song is ethereal and could be categorized as lovely, but that is just because of its delicate pristine nature…not because the song is all that great. Stevie Wonder pulls out his 80’s harmonica which would fit right in with “I Just Called.”  Swirling synth effects change up the song a little toward the end, but it maintains its wispy ways. And the melody sounds like a slowed up, poor man’s version of Jimmy Ruffin’s great song “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” And they let Wonder finish out the track with a little harmonica summary.

“Hey Manhattan!” was a single, and features Townshend on guitar. It Begins with an island beat and some disco strings. The barely-there vocals continue through the verse, and by the chorus, they express a little emotion, but it is lost underneath the whooshy production.
“Knock on Wood” has a funky-reggae influenced beat to start the song off. And it comes off a bit like Squeeze from this same time period of their career. A lot of the synth produced tidbits and musical eccentricities seem to be superfluous and added simply because they could.  
“The Golden Calf” was the fifth single released. It begins with some jangely rhythm guitar that reverberates out as the notes are held. The song is very different from the rest of the album, with confident Tears For Fears like, deeper vocals, and a straight forward pop sense right off the bat. The verse into the chorus is very fluid and natural, and the chorus actually feels like it is a bridge leading to a catchier part that never follows up. Even the spoken word section around the 3:45 mark is deep and melodic and dumps the listener into a nice energetic instrumental section before revisiting the chorus. Unfortunately, the chorus just fades out: I was hoping for a more creative finish. Still, it is a solid song.
“Nancy (Don't Let Your Hair Down For Me)” twinkles in like an early morning dream state. The lyrics of waking up to go to work match the mood set by the return to whispery vocals and adult smooth jazz structure.
“The Venus of the Soup Kitchen” is a mostly acapella song at the beginning, with radio show like effects used in the background offering the flimsiest of structure. Instruments like a guitar and trepidations drums come in at their turns, but the melody generally exists in the vocals alone. With about a minute and a half to go, the vocals are bolstered by a choir of support, building in a slow jazzy way. The choir falls away leaving a delicate female vocal to solo, which is quickly overtaken by the lead vocals finishing off the album.

*“Looking for Atlantis” was a single. It starts off strong, with a doo-wop tambourine, energetic beat. It adds some 80’s smooth synth production, and female backing vocals that establish the chorus hook. The main vocals are as expected: airy and fragile. The melody is fun to follow along, as it rolls along, is always catchy and ever changing. The song projects the early 90’s vibe of baggy button shirts and pants, wire rimmed circle glasses, and floppy hair. The song ends in fade out when the harmonicas take over.
“Wild Horses” has a slow start, with mystical chimes and a slow drum beat. The vocals whisper over the music, and again, it feels like the over produced Squeeze tracks. The chorus is sing where the word Wild is sung like a ringing gong, balanced with the rest of it “horses. I want to have” fitting back into the precedent style and melody. The chimes come in again toward the end, but not featured as prevalently.  
“Machine Gun Ibiza” begins with a ocean waves washing upon the beach synth sound. The song keeps the island vibe going with synthesized congas and wah-wah guitars. The melody has a bit of a dark undertone, and reminds me a little of Sting’s lame solo work. The vocals are not as flat and strained here, they are more confident. The song even references island events like hurricanes, hanging 10, and the island Ibiza, itself.
“We Let the Stars Go” was a single. It has a slow waltz tempo. The song is sung as a sentimental reflection with adult contemporary smooth-jazz production. The melody slips side to side, and it lightly drags a limp lane behind.
“Carnival 2000” was released as a single to promote a four-track EP, creatively titled “Jordan: the EP.” It is a tribute to the South American festival, and after a quiet intro, brass celebration begins with a samba drum beat. The vocals are very reserved for the sort of energy the music is trying to release. It is as if the vocals are coming from a nervous tourist watching the festivals from his hotel room. Or it could be an out of touch advertisement to come join from some guy who’s never been there.
“Jordan: the Comeback” is beatnik jazzy as it begins. Spoken word political poetry is sung over a free form jazz beat that evolves for the first 45 seconds. Then the synth drums kick in for the chorus, and the music synchronizes for a loungy hook. Another spoken word verse is used to fill the gap until the next chorus. There is too much light echo production on the vocals for my taste, and unnecessary chimes bells and synth effects in the background. Just because you have 15 open tracks on a multi-track recording device does not mean you have to use them all. But again it was a sign of the times in the late 80’s early 90’s for intelligent pop to be way over produced synthetically.
“Jesse James Symphony” begins with the Michael Penn style melody right away. It is kind of show-tuney, as it is very descriptive and relies on the lyrics and minimal chimey, harp-like music that just parallels the vocal melody.
“Jesse James Bolero” continues with the Jesse James concept part of the album, with a bold, trumpeting grand entrance theme song. The basic melody is just carried over from the song that precedes this, but more music has been added to boost the waltzing image. I am reminded again of the horns from Sonic the Hedgehog in production quality to the horns used here. The song repeats its hook, cashing it all in on the one catchy part, and just running with it.
“Moondog” has a George Michael Father Figure romantic wispyness to it as the song begins. The enchanting song crests and falls below the vocals. Then for a short segment, the song gets fun and energetic, which is only a preview for the jazzy chorus, which breaks the quiet mood the beginning sets up with synth horns and cheezy keyboard sounds. The extras drop away for the second verse, and it is a combination of Michael Penn and Thomas Dolby precision in the vocal melody. Some of the synth effects also remind me of XTC’s wasp star.

“All the World Loves Lovers” feels like retreading of old ground. It follows a grandiose, sweeping artificial soundscape with smooth production and forgettable romantic melodies.
“All Boys Believe Anything” is a slow, backing, mostly instrumental soundtrack song. It is like a lullaby.
“The Ice Maiden” begins with dual male and female vocals over a cold, sterile landscape. Horns and a woodblock try to melt the chill, which is even promoted with the lyrics. The song changes up enough that there seems to be no repeating chorus. It’s more of a story song. One section the vocals begin to grow in energy, but then they mention a “death is a small price for heaven” it sounds a lot like the horrible group I reviewed a while ago: the Goth Christian new wave band Mad At the World.
“Paris Smith” transitions without break and is a little slower, but still just as polished and grandiose, with haunting synth flutters and minimal melody changes or instrument supplements. The song ends with female doo-doo’s and harpsichord strums.
“The Wedding March” has  a bit of a mysterious tone to it, with a jaunty, bouncing melody underneath the sweeping vocals. A classical style is used with jazzy vocals and melodies added in a bit of an old-fashioned carnival setting. The song sashays along, slowing down to a choreographed dance routine you’d see in something like Singin In The Rain. Its vaudevillian style sets it apart from the rest of the album, although the production reigns it in as best as it can.
“One of the Broken” has the feel of  a sad, and sullen march. The vocals are deep and spoken in an echoing cave. These words are supposed to be a memory. The lead vocals pick up the story in present day, and the song continues on in a forlorn, head down, feet dragging trance. The end of the song has a piano that feels like it’s trying to build up a gospel vibe.
“Michael” is spacey and oceanic at the same time. The free form synth effects don’t quite match with the vocals, as they come from different places. The synchronization of lyrics and music is set off after a loud mystical chiming crash. The chorus is short, and only consists of the title name drawn out and is followed by a building of emotion.
“Mercy” is like “All Boys Believe Anything,” where it drifts along with quiet vocals echoing lightly as if in a cave. It never gets started and ends before it goes anywhere, even as a filler track.
“Scarlet Nights” has a dripping, echoing cave-like sound, which is pushed away with a driving drum beat and a revving guitar. The song moves into standard pop territory with a simplistic structure. The chorus drifts over the driving backing beat and melody. It seems weird to hid this accessible gem in the back end of the album, when the album is ready to end, the song could easily band together some of the one-dimensional atmospheric songs. Female vocals take over for one short verse, revitalizing the song, and adding another layer that could be dropped at any time.
“Doo-Wop in Harlem” fades in with a church organ, with held notes and a developing melody. The male vocals come in quietly. The textured, layer vocals mix with female vocals textured the same way. A surprising turn signal like beep fades in and out quickly in predestined intervals (after the word Harlem) which wakes up the daydreaming listener. The song fades out from its one dimensional nighttime prayer. 

Stand Out Track:~The Golden Calf
*Looking for Atlantis

Guardian 2013 Interview

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