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Prefab Sprout - Steve McQueen Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 September 2007
format:    16-bit CDs (2)
performance:    8
sound:    9
released:    2007
1st released:    1985
label:    Epic/Legacy
reviewer:    John Sutton-Smith

ImageLargely unknown in the U.S. outside of a devoted few, Prefab Sprout were undoubtedly one of the best British pop bands of the alt-rock era and singer Paddy McAloon one of the great songwriters, as proved once again by the re-release of their classic album Steve McQueen (originally released here as Two Wheels Good, due to litigation from the late actor's daughter – obviously no music fan). Like every great U.K. pop band from the Kinks to the Clash, Prefab were strongly influenced by American culture; McAloon, on later records, sang about "Doo Wop in Harlem” and strolling Fifth Avenue "just to think Sinatra's been there too." That this album, full of epic cinematic imagery and sound, was titled after one of the great Hollywood movie icons was no mistake, and now, restored to its original title, it is a welcome return to its original glory, re-helmed by original producer Thomas Dolby.

First released in June 1985 on the heels of the previous year’s Swoon, Steve McQueen was the second Prefab album and perhaps the band’s crowning achievement. It brought together their elegant acoustic balladry with a more soulful pop to create a lush sonic sheen that has moments of early McCartney or Steely Dan, while McAloon’s lyrical sensibility, both edgy and sophisticated, is on a par with an Elvis Costello or even Cole Porter.

It is a collection of powerfully moving pop songs – deceptively catchy melodies, always thoughtful treatments, and an atmospheric aura that may rank as one of Dolby’s best production efforts. Kicking off with McAloon’s heartfelt ode to Faron Young, "The Singing Sheriff," the next few songs are all pure delight – “Bonny,” “Appetite” and “When Love Breaks Down,” their first single breakthrough in the U.K. Both “Goodbye Lucille #1” and “Desire As” are also standout tracks.
The album captures Prefab's evolution from their more organic roots to the wider rock canvas, and is as fine a pop legacy as a band could hope for.

This album is as much a feast for the ears as for the head. Remastered by its original producer Dolby, the album sounds fantastic; his keyboard work always seemed to enrich McAloon’s arrangements, but one would be hard- pressed to find this crystalline sound on many other recordings.

Wendy Smith's soaring backing vocals and Dolby's own keyboard colors deftly balance Neil Conti's smart percussion and Martin McAloon's bass against Paddy's often deep and complex compositions. The band’s performance as a whole here is also superb; these sessions are a special moment in time that, though they’ve come close on occasion, they have never been able to fully recapture again.

Extra Features
The Legacy edition features a second disc of eight new acoustic arrangements, recorded by McAloon and his brother Martin in 2006, and these will be the highlights of the package for many a Prefab fan. Not just a simple recycling on acoustic guitar, these are often some fairly radical re-arrangements of the classic tracks.

The album has been re-packaged with new photographs and liner notes written by journalist Paul Lester. A deluxe digi-pack version is available for limited release, after which it will be available in a jewel case.

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