Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Pizzicato 5; Prefab Sprout

By Stewart Mason

JULY 6, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale
!!!!!= The
!!!!= Truth
!!!= Is
!!= Out
! = There


Pizzicato 5 Happy End of You: The Remix Album (Matador)

I hate most dance music. I liked industrial back around 1985 when it was Einsturzende Neubauten and Test Department doing onstage arc welding, not the dead boring thumpthumpthump it became. Then there's techno and its one piano sample. You know the one. "Dah dah da-dahh, da dah dah da-dahh." What the fuck is up with that? Jungle and drum 'n' bass are less irritating, but since I don't dance, it's still basically useless. I do still like ambient house, though since I play my old Orb albums not while participating in recreational polypharmacy but while doing the dishes, Alex Paterson would surely feel I'm not using them for their intended purpose.

So why am I reviewing a Pizzicato 5 remix album? Because Pizzicato 5 have mixed '50s easy listening, '60s bossa nova and '70s disco better than anyone for more than a decade. Last year's Happy End of the World was a career highlight, featuring Yasuharu Konishi's best songwriting and Maki Nomiya's most assured vocals. Since Happy End of You is geared toward dancefloor utility, Konishi's sturdy, surprising hooks and Nomiya's enchanting voice are mostly absent, and it's up to the skills of the remixers to make things interesting.

Who succeeds? St. Etienne's "Love's Theme" is gorgeous, focusing on the breezy melody instead of the beat before throwing in a totally over-the-top heavy guitar solo. 808 State and Momus' wiggy deconstructions of "Trailer Music" also score high, and Sean O'Hagan's "My Baby Portable Player Sound" makes me wish he'd produce a whole album for them someday. Daniel Miller's circa-1980 "The World Is Spinning at 45 RPM" made me dig out my old Silicon Teens and Normal records.

Who doesn't succeed? Nothing flat out sucks, though there's stretches of tedium comparable to the drive between Las Vegas and Raton, and John Oswald has done much better work than this beat-crazy "It's A Beautiful Day." If you're the booty-shakin' type, there's undoubtedly much to love here. For us stay-at-homes, the less immediately engaging bits are also perfectly acceptable dishwashing music. !!!1/2


Prefab Sprout Andromeda Heights (Columbia/Kitchenware)

I've held off on reviewing this, hoping some smart American label would pick it up for U.S. distribution. But it came out last May, so I'm afraid you'll have to shell out the extra bucks for an import copy. Which you should--Andromeda Heights is an effortlessly lovely album.

In 1984, Newcastle natives Paddy McAloon (vocals, guitar, songs), Wendy Smith (vocals) and Martin McAloon (bass) released Swoon, a weird, knotty album about chess players, political intrigue and religion. Then came 1985's Two Wheels Good, an album I will forever consider one of the finest ever made, followed by 1988's slickly commercial From Langley Park To Memphis. After 1990's mindblowing Jordan: The Comeback, a mythic suite of songs about Elvis and God, Prefab Sprout fell off the face of the earth for most of a decade.

Good call. A Prefab Sprout album in the middle of the primacy of grunge would have been almost universally dismissed. Today, after the orchestral pop of Richard Davies, Eric Matthews and others, the lush, low-key Andromeda Heights sounds perfect--classic and contemporary at once, melding Paddy McAloon's characteristic '60s fixation (the gently self-mocking "Prisoner of the Past" prominently features the drumbeat from "Be My Baby") with subtle nods to current fashion like the finger pops and shuffling beat of the the atmospheric, vaguely trip-hop-like "Steal Your Thunder."

Gentle and atmospheric are the key words here. The album opener, "Electric Guitars," vividly evokes the first flush of Beatlemania ("We were songbirds, we were Greek gods, we were singled out by fate/We were quoted out of context, it was great"), but even it's quietly evanescent.

The closing title track is the single most beautiful song McAloon has yet written. Buoyed by floating vibes and piano and Smith's most ethereal vocals, McAloon breathes "We're building a home on a side of a mountain/above the clouds, next to the sky/And after our labors the stars will be neighbors/We'll take our place with them in space." This image, cozy and celestial at once, fits the album perfectly. With luck, we don't have to wait another seven years for the follow-up. !!!!1/2


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