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Prefab Sprout Steve McQueen Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Taking effervescent invention, playfulness and intelligence and corralling it into...

Greg McLaren 2007

This is one of the greats. Some may complain that the 80s was a poor decade for music, but this record destroys those ignorant moans. Re-mastered by original producer Thomas Dolby, Steve McQueen sounds terrific. There is no escaping the 80s-ness of the synth sound and the breathy super-cool voice of Paddy McAloon, but why escape? What was happening here in 1985 was happening for the first (and perhaps the only) time.

This was the second album from Prefab Sprout, a band consisting of two brothers (Paddy and Martin), Wendy Smith on keyboards and backing vocals and Neil Conti on drums. The name is one Paddy made up when he was 14, they released many albums over two decades and their biggest hit was ''King of Rock and Roll'', you know: 'Hot dog, jumping frog, Alberquerque…'.

But this is trivia.

What really matters is the music. Really. If you have never listened to this album then I urge, no, demand that you do. And I am not caught up in the reverie of yesteryear; I was told to listen to this a few years ago when slagging off the '..jumping frog..' lyric. What I heard was a record full to the brim of wonderful ideas with an unapologetic singer flitting from heartbreak to sugared-out bitternes to all-out love with such deft lyrical brilliance that I was reminded of Cole Porter or Lorenz Hart. He sings surprising melodies flung about almost off-hand around killer hooks, never letting a song get predictable. Dolby’s bloops and grinds learned while forging his own proto-electro pop career are crucial.

Paddy's lyrical skill lies in his honesty and humour which is sometimes oblique but never hard to understand. 'I'm turkey hungry, I'm chicken free and I can't breakdance on your knee' from ''Movin' The River'', or 'Sweet talk like candy rots teeth’ from "Hallelujah".

Everything else on this album is born of rigour and attention to detail. The stuff that lead Paddy to proclaim himself as ‘probably the best songwriter on the planet’. Taking effervescent invention, playfulness and intelligence and corralling it into songs of an unusually high caliber is what both made their name and limited their success.

The acoustic versions of Paddy’s favourites on disk 2 (which took twice as long to record as the original record) are quite different. Paddy’s guitar playing is still sharp and maturity has not dulled his irony or his expressive, knowing tone. He is older, so is his voice, and lyrics that meant one thing 22 years ago now have a new slant. When he sings ‘they were the best times, the harvest years’ on '‘Desire As’' it all becomes much more personal. It even rivals the original. Essential stuff...

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