Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Selected Ballads Selects A Ballad

My song of the moment is, without question or qualification, Prefab Sprout's "Angel of Love" (available as a free download here). What at first sounds like an unbearably cheesy, goopy love ballad reveals unsettling details, dark corners and depth with subsequent listens.  This sh*t has layers!

What could be more hackneyed than repeatedly invoking Romeo and Juliet in a love song?  But then lines like "Poison or dagger?/Read the last line" and "Death waits to claim us/and frame us in pine"(!!!) peek out to remind you of how that play ends.  Angel metaphors are equally played out, but there's a realization waiting here too if you keep in mind the traditional blues meaning of pleading with an "angel" to spread her "wings".  I'm not saying the lyrics are particularly profound in isolation, but I do think they're smashingly successful in the context of the song, married to a melody that is a well turned thing of beauty.  

"Angel" was apparently recorded as a demo for an album that was never made, the would-have-been follow-up to Sprout's UK hit album Jordan: The Comeback.  The remastered demos were finally released a couple years ago as Let's Change the World with Music.  For a demo, this recording has plenty of sonic details to reward close listening and an enveloping synth-heavy atmosphere that walks the line between a warm blanket and a smothering, faintly miasmatic mist.  I bought a couple of older Sprout albums a few years ago but never gave them many spins.  The time has definitely come to spend some more time with them.  "Angel of Love" has certainly taught me not to judge any of Paddy McAloon's songs without giving them at least a few listens.

[Update: I first heard "Angel of Love" on a free Tompkins Square sampler which also featured a late-career live take on "Hickory Wind" by Charlie Louvin, who died today.  Nashville music writer Bill Friskics-Warren has a fine obit in the NYT.]  

No comments: