‘It’s four in the morning, and once more the dawning’…I absolutely detest Country and Western music, especially as typified by the grating drawl of Faron Young’s jukebox staple. The only criteria, it seems to me, that is sine qua non for this bastard hick genre are: a drek-laden sense of maudlin self-pity, a morbid fascination with alcohol and partying, an irreparable relationship, and a truck. All to the rickety twang of a steel guitar and a forlorn pleading voice that makes me want to shake the singer by his or her neck until their teeth rattle, or (preferably) drop down dead on the spot. Truly, I can count the number of such songs that I actually like on the fingers of one hand.
Nevertheless, it is a thriving cash cow for the music industry in the States. Any tosser wearing a cowboy hat or leather tassles can shift shitloads of CDs. I guess it’s because it appeals to some misguided nostalgia for a time that never was, and the comfort of knowing that either there’s someone out there who’s got a more miserable existence than yours, or the knowledge that the simple pleasures of getting pissed and doing fucking line dancing on Saturday night are yours for the taking.
This diatribe serves as the backdrop to today’s post about Prefab Sprout, whose sole entry in the Festive Fifty, Faron Young (FF 1985 #38) gives a shuffling, strikingly memorable canter to lyrics that take apart the American dream and shove it sideways up the unthinkable. Paddy McAloon may have let his critical success go to his head somewhat, when the plaudits given to the second LP, Steve McQueen, prompted him to remark that he was probably the greatest songwriter in the world. A forgivable conceit, when faced with lyrics like, ‘You offer infrared instead of sun/You offer bubble gum/You give me Faron Young/four in the morning’: when you’re lost in the back end of beyond, you can’t fix your broken-down car, Faron’s whiny ballads offer very cold comfort. And, like all his targets, Paddy spears this fish with unfailing accuracy, backed by those sudden melting chord shifts that would characterise so much of his heartfelt later work.
The Sprout came from Durham, and their self-released debut single ‘Lions In My Own Garden: Exit Someone’ (an acronym for Limoges, the city where Paddy’s former grilfriend was staying) received much airplay from John Peel in 1982. However, it took another three years for the band to get into the studio for their one and only Peel session, which, apart from the aforementioned song, also featured an early version of another stab in the heart of Americana (and particularly Bruce Springsteen), ‘Cars And Girls’. Greater success was to come in 1988 with the supreme Thomas Dolby-produced From Langley Park To Memphis, chock full of splendid tracks and their highest chart entry in the UK, ‘King Of Rock’N'Roll’.
Paddy’s recent health problems notwithstanding, this treasurable outfit are set to release a new LP this year, and we can once more trawl the allusions and magic that seem to elude buyers Stateside. Given the nature of the songs, maybe that’s understandable: but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Prefab Sprout, Faron Young
Prefab Sprout, Peel Session 1985-08-18
1. Cars And Girls
2. Rebel Land
3. Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone)