Song Of The Day 11/5/2015: Paddy McAloon – “I’m 49”

Allegations of Weirdness – Paddy McAloon is the ringmaster of Prefab Sprout, one of those groups that on paper seems like a band people would “either love or hate,” but were so countercurrent to the nervy new wave machine that detractors more often just didn’t know what to do with ’em. Their 1985 album Steve McQueen (in the States it was Two Wheels Good because the actor protested from beyond the grave) is one of my four or five favorite British albums of the ’80s. McAloon’s unswayed romanticism struck some as overly precious, but it fit in so well with his music’s Bacharach-isms, executed with just enough of a wink to pass muster. It was a fragile brokerage that wasn’t always perfect album-to-album, but it did result in subsequent jewels like 1990’s Jordan: The Comeback and the 2013 surprise Crimson/Red.

But McAloon’s solo album I Trawl the Megahertz is something else entirely and I never heard it until earlier this week. It’s primarily instrumental, sort of an orchestrator’s compromise between the aforementioned Bacharach-isms and cloudier emotional cinematics (the 22-minute title track conjures a suburban Briton’s rendering of P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia). Most of the album was composed during a bout of temporarily blindness brought on by a degenerative retina condition McAloon experienced during the late ’90s and early 2000’s. “If I’d have been born 50 years ago I’d be blind by now,” he told The Independent.

The title refers to McAloon’s tuning in to short wave radio, finding examples of broken affections, loneliness and isolation in the voices of call-in listeners. In the title track, instead of himself or a hired voice-over talent, McAloon had an American commodities broker based in London read fragments of the conversations transcribed from talk radio. In "I'm 49" McAloon spliced actual snippets from those shows in seemingly random order, but they add up to something uncommonly affecting and articulate. Which flies in the face of what talk radio does these days, but at least it was good for something very, very worthy.

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