Sunday, June 16, 2013

Prefab Sprout - Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone) b/w Radio Love

And it doesn't sum it up to say I'm singing the blues.....

I'm screaming because I've found something to lose

Sometimes a fine band with a lengthy, accomplished career gets it right the first time at bat, and while the Sprout released quite a few worthy singles and albums throughout the next three decades (they're still around, but haven't released much new material in the 21st century), nothing quite matched this, their self-released 1982 debut single.  Paddy McAloon (his real name, believe it or not) reveals himself as a precociously melodic tunesmith of sensitive jangle-pop - the crisp, clean Postcard Records sound favoured by such contemporaries as Orange Juice and Aztec Camera as an antidote to the overly lush, plastic synth-pop dominating the charts during the early '80s.  McAloon himself would gravitate towards over-produced, lush '80s pop when the band began recording long players in earnest; however, the spare production values on this self-released single check and balance McAloon's naturally lush melodicism, so that this particular extended sigh/swoon of a tune trots crisply rather than sogs down in syrup.  Line up the first letters of each word in the A-side and you spell Limoges, the French city where McAloon's then-girlfriend was studying on her semester abroad; and without reading too much snooping biography into it, it's plainly obvious from the clues that the song's a valentine to that long-distance affair.  McAloon pines with unabashed melancholy for his estranged love, crooning softly on the verses and then upping his register for an anguished but tuneful yelp on the chorus.  He's plagued by insecurities, failing to stop himself from saying too much and then realizing he may have been better off not saying anything at all; trying to convince her and himself that tonight, let's at least pretend that this relationship is going to last.  He realizes that calling his sufferings the blues would be a cliche, but that's exactly what it is; he's in turmoil because he's finally found something worth losing.  That is to say, not having someone to love spares you the insecurity of ever having to lose that person.  Being single and unattached is such a smooth emotional ride that way - being alone is really the only way to achieve true independence and freedom.  Because as soon as you let someone into your life, only then can you experience true loneliness.  Janis Joplin had made a similar point in her big hit a decade earlier; McAloon makes roughly the same argument, but from the other side of the vantage point.  That's what makes falling in love such a risky proposition - you'll find yourself screaming because you've got something left to lose.

The B-side, "Radio Love," comes at loneliness from a different, more abstract angle.  The lyrics are much more enigmatic, a string of imagery with shifting narrative points of view, and gratuitous literary namedrops (Timon of Athens, Bathsheba).  The music is even more spare and underplayed, giving the track a haunting air of wide-open spaces.  It's an ode to the airwaves, as many a great song has been, but the mood conveyed is that of late nights or early mornings when the only sounds beyond your own heartbeats are those wafting from the tinny, crackling speakers of your wireless.  You're driving alone at night, the wind rustling past as you slowly cruise to nowhere in particular; you're hunched next to your bed, tuning in to shakily transmitted pirate stations while the rest of the family is asleep; you're lying under the stars on some deserted stretch of hill, with only your portable for company - that's the sort of scene this song sets, that gentle melancholy of non-oppressive, wistful loneliness.

Caveat emptor: Neither the A nor B side is available on any regular issue Prefab Sprout album (I suppose by the time they released their debut LP, Swoon, in 1984, they considered these songs too old and unfresh). "Lions..." can be found on at least one Prefab career compilation, but as for "Radio Love," alas, 'tis never been released on CD.

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