Prefab Sprout – From Langley Park to Memphis Turns 30

Paddy McAloon may be regarded as one of the finest and best-honed singers-songwriters in the ’80s/’90s Guitar Pop/New Wave world, alongside the likes of Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera), Stephen Duffy (The Lilac Time), and Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) – each of whom has been prolific not only as the frontman of his respective band but also as a solo artist.

In the case of McAloon – he is the founder of Prefab Sprout, which was formed in 1978, in Newcastle, England. In the English band’s 40 years’ existence, McAloon, with the rest of his band, has released nine studio albums – from 1984’s Swoon to 2013’s Crimson/Red. Because album number-three, From Langley Park to Memphis, has just turned 30 a few days ago, to start with it in revisiting Prefab Sprout’s music is very appropriate.

Released on March 14, 1988, on Kitchenware Records, From Langley Park to Memphis illustrated the marked transition of Prefab Sprout towards a more sophisticated musical direction, from the rawer and edgier sound of its earlier works. It opened with the cool and choppy swagger of “The King of Rock ’N’ Roll.” This was followed by the catchy coo and light jazzy spark of “Cars and Girls.” The tempo turned a bit slow and the vibes breezy with the piano-led “I Remember That.” Still in the same sonic ambience, yet the driving mode a gear higher, Prefab Sprout then serenaded the listener with “Enchanted.”

A slow, starry-eyed ballad then came next in the form of “Nightingales,” which featured the American Soul Artist Stevie Wonder on harmonica. The ensuing string-laden “Hey Manhattan!” then took the listener to a soulful night’s swing back to the ’70s hustle and bustle of New York, this time with The Who’s Pete Townshend on acoustic guitar.

The Reggae-tinged “Knock on the Wood” returned the listener to the album’s overall beat-driven mood. Then there was the highlight of From Langley Park to Memphis – the slightly progressive and angular “The Golden Calf,” which was released as the album’s final single. The penultimate track, “Nancy (Let Your Hair Down for Me)” was another Sophisti-Pop ballad whose piano flourishes and subtle strings surely took the listener to a nostalgic trip to whichever point in his past did hold for him more memorable memories.

Finally, McAloon and the rest of Prefab Sprout – his brother Martin McAloon (bass), Neil Conti (drums, percussion), and Wendy Smith (vocals, guitars, keyboards, piano, tambourine) – finished off From Langley Park to Memphis with the graceful sway of the Traditional Pop/Light Jazz-sounding “The Venus of the Soup Kitchen.” It is here where McAloon’s voice was in its silkiest and breeziest, smoothing its way into the listener’s senses especially that it floated on a backdrop of horns and strings.

Of Prefab Sprout’s nine-album discography, From Langley Park to Memphis remains to be the epitome of the band’s sophisticated music. After all, it was the one that broke the band through the mainstream and helped catapult Prefab Sprout to commercial popularity, earning for it a rightful place in the pantheon of other New Wave greats that had a similar stylistic trajectory, such as ABC (“Be Near Me”), Spandau Ballet (“With the Pride”), Blancmange (“Lose Your Love”), and Simply Red (“Stars”).

So now, from Prefab Sprout’s Andromeda heart to yours, play the album one more time as it celebrates its 30th anniversary. They may not have really been the kings of Rock-n-Roll, but the guys in Prefab Sprout were surely Pop/New Wave stars, not only from Langley Park to Memphis, but certainly from England to the rest of world and, ultimately, to the very hearts of music enthusiasts whose true love is New Wave!

Purchase From Langley Park to Memphis:

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