Album: Steve McQueen – Prefab Sprout
Review: Uncut – 20 April 2007
Author: Andrew Mueller
The original 1985 release of this, Prefab Sprout’s second album, confirmed what the previous year’s debut, “Swoon”, had hinted: that the firmament had been graced by a star of singular twinkle.
More than two decades on, the material wrought by Paddy McAloon for “Steve McQueen” still has the feel of a masterclass delivered by some amiably eccentric, terrifyingly brilliant Professor of Song. He would go on to wreak further, if infuriatingly intermittent, miracles – “Jordan: The Comeback” and “Andromeda Heights” – but “Steve McQueen” remains as rich and complete a single songbook as has ever been authored.
Though often self-consciously arch, occasionally verging on too-clever-by-half, McAloon never allowed his intelligence to dominate his passions: for all the playful wittiness poured into the music and lyrics, “Steve McQueen” remains a piercingly sincere evocation of heartbreak. The best songs here – and the quality really varies only between a million miles better than average and certifiable thundering genius – are as eloquent as anything by Leonard Cohen, as angry as Elvis Costello at his most spiteful, and accompanied by the melodic grace of Brian Wilson.
“Appetite”, “Goodbye Lucille” and especially “Bonny” are supremely pretty songs, freighting some pretty ugly truths. The career-spanning characterisations of McAloon as some flouncing, floppy-fringed Fotherington-Thomas were only ever the work of people who weren’t listening.
The rawness of the emotions underpinning Thomas Dolby’s deceptively polished production is emphasised on the acoustic recordings of eight of the tracks, which appear as a bonus disc. McAloon’s new versions of “Faron Young” and “When Love Breaks Down”, addressing the romantic folly of his youth with the weary wisdom of his middle-aged voice, are especially baleful and glorious in their desperation and desolation. That key line of “Goodbye Lucille” – “Life’s not complete/Till your heart’s missed a beat” – now sounds much more like a promise than a threat.
The review is spot on in that this re-release, with the additional acoustic versions, somehow managed to improve something that I’d long considered perfect. Just over five years ago, I pulled together an ICA for Prefab Sprout, and, for the first and only time, I had one side of said ICA as identical to one side of a studio album – Side A of Steve McQueen.
So, it makes sense to start off 2021 with something just a bit different in this series; it’s a special treat for those of you who don’t know them – all eight tracks from the bonus disc of 2007.
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Appetite
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Bonny
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Desire As
mp3: Prefab Sprout – When Love Breaks Down
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Goodbye Lucille #1
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Moving The River
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Faron Young
mp3: Prefab Sprout – When The Angels