Like the Roger Waters of The Wall
or the Kevin Shields of Loveless
, the Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout’s 1984 debut, Swoon
, functions as a dominating presence where he is heard and where he isn’t, a sort of mythical figure for the auteur theorists of pop and rock music to fawn over. Prefab Sprout may be at this point composed of three people--McAloon, his brother Martin, and Wendy Smith, with Graham Lant helping out on drums--but they are all undeniably made to speak Paddy’s language, to bequeath to sound and lyric its unequivocal expression of Paddy’s personality. A reversal of Hobbes’ famous political formulation that “A Multitude of men, are made One Person, when they are by one man, or one Person, Represented,” Swoon
is the sound of one man represented in his spiritual integrity through a multitude of sounds: synth sweeps, acoustic guitar strums, drab snare hits.
The compressed, flat production of Swoon
, which would be padded out with thicker background vocals and synths for Steve McQueen
and Langley Park
and then blown up into Technicolor for Jordan: The Comeback
, may not present the most pleasing portrait of the artist in this band’s career. But the unerringly complex songwriting--try out the basslines on the opening duo of tracks--both presents a foil for the brittleness of the instrumentation and provides one of the most convincing configurations of a flitting mind in pop history.
So too does Paddy McAloon operate in invigorating contrasts lyrically, his clever tongue always threatening to tip over into douchiness, and explicitly doing so on the waltzable “Cruel” (“Don't call me possessive, but God if he's smoochin' with you!”). The brilliant dramatic coup of Swoon
, from the insistent strums of “Don’t Sing” to the breathtaking recapitulation of the final track, is almost Kanye-like in its execution: the grossness of the personality on display is matched only by the vividness of its depiction.
No song on Swoon
presents quite the same image of Paddy McAloon, and yet no instance feels false. Astonishingly for a debut, the album plays as a continuous stripping away of defenses. Somewhere within the sinuous bridge of “Elegance,” even the album’s frail sound begins to conceptually conform with McAloon’s woeful play at absolute sovereignty. An act of total vulnerability, Swoon
urges its listeners through successive sketches of subjection to ultimately arrive not at revelation, but at an immeasurable void.