Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon has been showing an uncommon awareness of the ticking clock and the Reaper's claw since as long ago as 1988's "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" ("All my lazy teenage boasts/ Are my high-precision ghosts/ And they're coming round the track to haunt me..."), so actually reaching middle age – he turned 52 this summer – ought to suit his bittersweet muse magnificently.
And it does. But here's the Sproutian twist: as much as McAloon may now resemble an Amish tramp auditioning for the lead part in the Robert Wyatt story, he still sounds like a young dreamer.
The lyrical and lush Let's Change the World with Music (the Sprout's first album for eight years and only their ninth in a career that began in Newcastle back in 1978) is, above all else, an idealistic record. It is, in no small part, a concept album engaged in the anthropomorphism of a whole art form, before which McAloon supplicates himself before it, a bowled-over suitor: "Music is a princess/ I'm just a boy in rags..."
Pop about pop has always been his (piano) forte – see "Faron Young", see "Cars and Girls" – and he's indulging that to an extreme here, from the opening "Let There Be Music" (on which an apocalyptic robot announcer gives way to Barry White symphonic disco) through the top-hats-and-canes swing of "I Love Music" (which rhymes "Niles and Bernard" with "avant-garde") and the self-explanatory "Sweet Gospel Music" to the wise and weary "Meet the New Mozart" ("He's in the bed where commerce sleeps with art...")
Along the way, McAloon debates the possibility of righteousness with or without religion to a Franco-disco beat ("Ride") and, on the sweeping and sumptuous "Last of the Great Romantics", issues the immortal command "Come on, Gatsby, stand aside..."
Still sounds like a young dreamer? That's probably because McAloon now suffers from impaired vision and diminished hearing and most of the songs here have been knocking around in demo form since 1992. All of which only makes Let's Change the World...all the more bittersweet.