PADDY McALOON I Trawl The Megahertz (EMI)

Like little else, certainly not the immaculately chiselled Steely Dan-influenced pop confections that Paddy McAloon created as part of Prefab Sprout, “I Trawl The Megahertz” sounds like avant Bacharach, an “Amelie” for the ears.

The 23-minute title track is its incomparable peak, a crazy morphing of The Blue Nile’s romantic atmospherics with Radio 4 documentaries. Over pillow-soft orchestrations of strings, brass and synths, a lady intones what initially appear to be random phrases in a detached but not disinterested tone. “I said ‘Your daddy loves you very much; he just doesn’t want to live with us anymore”.” “In the lobby of the Hotel Charlemagne they are hanging photographs of Rap artists and minor royalty. All cigarettes have been air-brushed from these pictures, making everyone a liar, and saving no-one from their folly.” “I trawl the megahertz. But the net isn’t fine enough, and I miss you – a swan sailing between two continents, a ghost immune to radar.” It’s something rapturous and rhapsodic, full of gently swelling crests and tumbles.

So, what gives? Unable to write music or even read following a series of health problems, McAloon found himself drawn to television and radio broadcasts, assembling fragments and phrases heard there into amorphous groups and sequences, finessing and jettisoning until it became the narrative heard here.

The remainder of the album is different again. “Esprit De Corps” bathes the pulsing minimalism of contemporary classical music in a warm blush; “Fall From Grace” is sumptuously upholstered melancholia. Much of “I Trawl The Megahertz” suggests that a future in film soundtracks is Paddy’s for the taking, these pieces being elaborately constructed parcels of concentrated sensuality. The confessional voices of real people float through the whistling oscillations of “I’m 49”, and it’s a startling, jarring moment when McAloon’s own vocals are first heard, seven tracks in, on “Sleeping Rough”.

Experimental without being indulgent, brave without being frightening, “I Trawl The Megahertz” is a pearl of an album.

Prefab Sprout