Record of the Week: Prefab Sprout – I Trawl The Megahertz (Sony 2LP, Remastered)

If this is unlike any Prefab Sprout record you’ve ever heard, that’s because it’s not really a Prefab Sprout record at all, but a Paddy McAloon record.

McAloon is, or course, the enigmatic and charismatic leader of art-pop outfit Prefab Sprout, and I Trawl The Megahertz was originally released as his first solo effort. Some 14 years later, it’s been remastered from the original masters under McAloon’s watchful eye, and rereleased with new artwork, this time credited to Prefab Sprout.

No doubt, it’s a way to attract greater attention to the record. But it was intended as a Prefab Sprout album when it was first conceptualised – and let’s face it, McAloon is very much the heart of and soul of the band.

Either way, if it gets more people to hear the set, it’s a good thing – because, for all its obtuseness and almost self-indulgent gravitas, this is very much McAloon’s magnus opus, even if it hardly features his vocals, and almost equally sparse on the vocal front.

The concept of the album is pure genius. Recuperating from eye surgery, McAloon spent months listening to late-night talk radio, and snippets from the outpourings of callers started to matrix into a melodic and lyrical pattern that could be described as a reflection of the human condition.

In the excellent and exhaustive self-penned liner notes, McAloon describes how words and sentences, heard repetitively, have an inherent melody, and to some extent, the album is a melodic interpretation and translation of the words culled from those late-night shows.

The album is almost overwhelmingly melancholic, but also strangely beguiling and hauntingly beautiful. It is by no means an easy nor accessible listen: it demands rapt attention and a willingness to understand. And then, finally, the pieces do snap together in an immersive and even mesmerising whole that, in turn, demands further discovery and interpretation.

Much like McAloon’s self-proclaimed procrastination in completing the set, it’s tempting to give up – at first, I couldn’t even get through the 22-minute opening track. It certainly helps to understand the concept behind I Trawl The Megahertz before trying to make musical and intellectual sense of it all.

Genius or gimmick – does it matter? In context, the orchestral interpretations are compelling and almost hypnotic at times. They’re also immaculately performed and truthfully recorded. On vinyl, there is a certain organic authenticity that adds to the set’s appeal.

Add the meticulously rendered gatefold cover (complete with gold-embossed title and full-colour inner sleeves), as well as the clean, silent pressing on satisfyingly heavy 180g vinyl, and this is one of those must-have albums – not only for McAloon and Prefab Sprout fans, but for music lovers who enjoy being challenged.

Performance: 9,5
Recording: 8,5
Pressing: 9
Artwork/cover: 8,5
Price: R470
Supplied by Audio Nut.