Paddy McAloon - I Trawl the Megahertz
The first solo album by Prefab Sprout frontman Paddy McAloon, this record was made under what could be described as challenging conditions. McAloon was struck down by a form of temporary blindness that left him housebound and severely restricted as a musician.
Far from retreating into himself, McAloon in effect wandered around the planet as he spent his time listening to short-wave radio (hence the album’s title). As he listened he began to capture snippets of conversation, throwaway lines and various ephemera of the airwaves. With some of Prefab Sprout’s more recent offerings varying in quality and relevance this could have been a self-indulgent mess, but McAloon has instead given us an album of rare beauty.
Helped by arranger David McGuinness and classical crossover ensemble Mr McFall's Chamber, the album documents a personal journey with grace and feeling. The opening track gives the album its name and weighs in at 22 minutes of spoken-word, with Yvonne Connors veering from heartbreaking sadness to contemplations on time passed. The killer line, “I said your Daddy loves you, I said your Daddy loves you very much. He just doesn’t want to live with us anymore”, will resonate with anyone unlucky enough to see a father leave for good. With a repeating string section backing this track takes on an almost dream-like state.
The scene for this work is set now and we see that two themes of time passing and revisiting old memories are at the centre of this album. Mainly instrumental, with the aforementioned snippets trying to make sense of age and time, the album ranges from wonderfully lush orchestrations ("We Were Poor" and sister track "...But We Were Happy"), to a single vocal track ("Sleeping Rough”). McAloon is clearly a thoughtful man, and this album has reined in some of his more irritating excesses to allow us to see the man within. The music of the man shows us how deeply the sight loss affected him as this is an intensely personal album that won’t be for everyone. Allow yourself time to listen to what’s being said though and anyone who has contemplated his or her own life can’t fail to be ensnared by the timeless grace of it all.