Best. Album. Ever. (Maybe) 1. I Trawl the Megahertz – Paddy McAloon (2003)

Image of I Trawl the MEGAHERTZ album art

"Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque" said Paddy McAloon, centresperson of Prefab Sprout, on their only Top 10 poptastic (and wholly unrepresentative) hit way back in 1988. Delighted as I was that the Sprouts were on Top Of The Pops and getting quizzed by Smash Hits (RIP), I didn't really click with From Langley Park to Memphis until years later.

But I stuck with them largely because of the strength of 'When Love Breaks Down', arguably their best known (and loved) track, which I remember listening to in the mid 80s on late-night radio. I couldn't fully get rid of the hiss on FM (we lived in the middle of nowhere in rural Ireland), but the music played by Mark Cagney, John Clarke and yes, Gerry Ryan, introduced me to the Sprouts, the Blue Nile and the 12" of Chaka Khan's 'I Feel For You' – all of which have left some kind of indelible mark on me.

That music, tracks like 'When Loves Breaks Down', 'Tinseltown In The Rain', and 'Atmospherics: Listen To The Radio' were thrilling and complex and grown up. Obsessed with the pop charts as I was, I was shattered when they didn't appear in the Top Ten alongside my other fave raves the Thompson Twins and other singles acts. I was still a singles buyer; albums were expensive and full of things that were, well, not-singles (tweens today have it good with the all-killer no-filler joy of iTMS and the like).

But thrilled I was nonetheless. A new rich vein of music was opening up for me, the creators of which have continued to provide me with, if not quite the startling joy of my teens, a source of pleasure not easily found in other fields. Perhaps as one ages, one really has heard it all before and overwhelmed as I now am with a bewildering amount of music, I'm not easily grabbed by the balls by a piece of music.

How odd, and great, then that Paddy McAloon has managed to bowl me over at several stages in my (and his) musical career.

I Trawl the MEGAHERTZ is a bizarre piece of work. I labelled it 'unclassifiable' in iTunes. While it has comparisons with Gavin Bryars, Gorecki and John Cage, it really doesn't belong in the classical section. It's not electronica despite the snippets of talk radio and the method of its being composed (McAloon said that without certain software, he could never have executed his ideas). It's certainly not pop or rock.

(There's a bit of a saga about detached retinas and being housebound with only the radio to console, but you can Google that. It's not as interesting as the music {although I'm very pleased that Paddy's peepers are OK – now lose the beard…}.)
Whatever genre it is, it's heartbreakingly beautiful. The album begins with a monologue by a woman with an American accent, who is 'telling myself the story of my life'. She doesn't let up for the next TWENTY-TWO minutes. The collage-like narrative seems to be about loss (Your daddy loves you – he just doesn't want to live with us anymore), anomie (I am waiting for life to start), and resignation (Repeat after me: 'Happiness is only a habit').

However, like so many truly great pieces of art, something is salvaged out of the sadness of simply being:

By day and night, fancy electronic dishes
are trained on the heavens.
They are listening for smudged echoes
of the moment of creation.
They are listening for the ghost of a chance.
They may help us make sense of who we are
and where we came from;
and, as a compassionate side effect,
teach us that nothing is ever lost.

Which must mean that somewhere in the ether, those same crackly transmissions I listened to under my pillow as a kid are still floating around, forever loaded with the possibility of thrill.

Download I Trawl the MEGAHERTZ (excerpt) – Paddy McAloon

(Here's a great site for all things in the McAlooniverse: www.browningmcintosh.com/plocktonwest/sprout.html )

Like this? Buy I Trawl The Megahertz

Advertisements

9 comments

  1. Brian

    wonderfully written Enda, I have you to thank for turning me in the direction of that album 3 years ago. It is a work of remarkable beauty.

  2. Enda

    Marco – that makes several of us!

    Brian – thanks so much for saying that. I’m delighted you love it, but then I knew you would. 🙂

  3. Robin

    Enda: Any thoughts on Paddy’s acoustic updates/reworkings included with the Legacy Edition of ‘Steve McQueen’ which came out not too long ago? If you haven’t heard them, you really oughta…

  4. eguinan

    Hi Robin,

    So far, I’ve managed to go for delayed gratification with the new versions – my copy shoud arrive next week though. I have the reworking of When Loves Breaks Down and I think he’s made something quite different and still great out of it. Strange that he left out a few lines (the stuff about easy sex), and surely he could have added the verse that he wrote for Lisa Stansfield when she covered it a couple of years ago (a very good version too, I think – but then again, it’s hard to ruin a great song like that).

    So, I’m very much looking forward to hearing the rest next week!
    Do call in again!

  5. Robin

    You possess much more self-control than I (as evidenced by the above, and by your earlier entry re: White Bread Black Beer as well) – there’s no way I could’ve waited so long to pick this up. Hope you enjoy hearing it at last when it arrives.

    As wonderful as it is to hear Paddy doing anything at all nowadays, I feel like the new versions are destined to be admired more than loved. Of course, having said that, I can’t get enough of the reworked ‘Desire As’ – it’s as affecting and emotionally rich as anything he’s done.

  6. eguinan

    Oh boy, I’m really looking forward to it now as Desire As is a fave. The first time I heard the re-worked version of When Love Breaks Down, I wasn’t all that bothered, but it came alive for me slowly.

    In the past, I would have raced out to get the CD or downloaded it, but I find I’m able to exercise a little more restraint as I get older. That said, I had pre-ordered the album from cdwow, but they kept delaying it so I cancelled the order. At that stage I just decided to shop around for the best price!

  7. Dave

    Ok. I’m a massive Prefabs fan. I have pretty well all the albums and have even tried arranging When Love Breaks Down for SATB choir (not very well). When I bought I Trawl The Megahertz about 10 years ago, I was expecting (hoping) for another Prefab album. Listened once and never again – until today. We’ve been to Cornwall and back and played Prefabs all the way home, so I dug this out just for the sake of it… not expecting to remember anything (I didn’t) and not expecting to like anything (how wrong!)

    Wow!!

    A wonderful piece of music. Thank you Paddy, once again…

    • eguinan

      It snuck up on me as well if I recall. I had heard ‘I’m 49’ and was completely thrown by the whole album – but then, like with you, it just clicked. I’d love if he did another one.

      An arrangement of WLBD for a choir? That must have been a blast! Thanks for the comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s