Steve McQueen- Prefab Sprout (1985)
There were some singers or bands whose collective bodies of works were analysed in a forensic fashion before a particular album was put forward for consideration in this rundown. Prefab Sprout weren’t one of them.
I do have a fair bit of time for a number of their other LPs, but Steve McQueen really stands many heads and sets of shoulders above the others. It’s responsible for a piece of history in the ICA series in that Side A is identical to Side A of ICA #51, which I pulled together back in November 2015. With your permission, here’s a cut’n’paste of what I said back then.
“The early 80s was a great time to be a follower of new music in the north-east of England. Indeed with bands such as Hurrah, The Kane Gang, Prefab Sprout and Martin Stephenson & The Daintees all on the Newcastle-based Kitchenware Records, there was a scene that wasn’t that far removed from Glasgow and Postcard Records of just a few years previous.
It was Prefab Sprout who turned out to be the most commercially successful of the acts, thanks in the main to the songwriting and tunesmith talents of Paddy McAloon, but also to the marketing men who pushed hard until the elusive breakthrough hit emerged.
The band came to prominence in 1982 with a couple of singles that were hits on the indie-chart, as well as a 1984 LP Swoon (short for ‘Songs Written Out Of Necessity’) that was well received by the critics.
By now, although the records were still coming out on the Kitchenware label, Prefab Sprout had the might of CBS Records behind them, and the band was pushed into the studio with a big-name producer for an album that was intended to be released in 1985.
There were many who predicted a disaster. McAloon was a fairly shy, laid-back individual who was seemingly being put under immense pressure to deliver something that justified the large contract signed with the major label. There was also the fact that despite Prefab Sprout being a band known for melodic, acoustic-based songs, the producer was the electronic pioneer and chart-act Thomas Dolby, and no-one could imagine any chemistry between the two.
Against all the odds, a masterpiece emerged.
The first hint we all got was the release of a single – When Love Breaks Down – which kept all the majesty and magnificence of a McAloon tune but had some beautiful bits added courtesy of keyboards that were clearly the work of Dolby. Despite this, the radio stations didn’t really pick up on it, and the single failed to trouble the charts.
The album came out soon after. It had the strange title of Steve McQueen.
I thought at the time it was bloody marvellous. And I still do and I will argue long into the night and right through the next day after the sun has come up that Side 1 is perfect; the CBS record bosses obviously thought so too, choosing to release four of the six songs as singles.
Except for the opening and closing tracks, it is not an album to get up and dance to. Instead, it is one to wake up with on a Saturday or Sunday morning if you’ve had a memorable time the night before and take great joy in life itself.”
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Moving The River
Opening track of Side B of the album and not included on that old ICA. Paddy McAloon surely is, a truly gifted kid.
8 thoughts on “60 ALBUMS @ 60 : #31”
Such a glorious lp . Dolby makes all the difference . The later lps ( post. Jordan ) are frustrating in their flashes of brilliance but the lack of Dolby or equivalent to steer things along is keenly felt . Listening to the first 4 lps always makes me sad that health issues mean that unlikely to get a repeat .
I don’t recall ever listening to this LP. I think I should. What I know of, and own, by Prefab Sprout is sparse – I own only two 12″ singles Couldn’t Bear To Be Special and Faron Young.
McAloon was touted heavily, as far as I can recall, as a very special songwriter but, as ever, somethings pass you by.
I wish I could just add my name to FoRW’s comment.
Can’t argue with any of that.
It’s saying a lot that I recall seeing an advertisement for a Stephen Duffy record of his early career where Duffy had the temerity to use a negative press review quote in the context of the ad. It said “We do not need another Paddy MacAloon” and I wish I could remember the source, but obviously, that stuck with me. I’ve got most of the Prefab Sprout albums but “The Gunman And Other Stories” and “I Trawl The Megahertz” have proven to be highly elusive. I’ll never forget buying “Let’s Change The World With Music” and sobbing for 15 minutes just from reading the lyric to “Music Is A Princess” in advance of actually playing it!
Great album and there can be no higher accolade than the fact that I still play it regularly 38 years later.
Possibly the best record in this countdown so far.
As I said before – this series just gets better and better. Steve McQueen will forever be the sound of summer 1985. Hearts skipped a …beat everywhere.