2 Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout 1985
I'm not sure really what to write about an lp that most of you know probably just as well as I do. Strangely I probably would have had more to say about the nearly choice of Jordan which without the one lp rule would have been sat only a place or two behind it .
Swoon had been a bit of an oddity with quirky stop start rhythms , songs with that touched on Graham Greene and Bobby Fischer , a bit indie in sound and mentality , up front rough and raw male vocals, strangely ethereal , just in tune female vocals. It had all the markings of a cult lp but much as I love it (still my third favourite Sprouts lp) it didn't really give any indication that they would return with something quite so smooth and polished.
A lot of credit must go to Thomas Dolby. The story goes that he visited an ill Paddy Mcaloon to talk about songs for the lp They sat in his bedroom whilst Paddy played endless songs from the infamous box under the bed on a battered cassette player and croaked them out with an old acoustic guitar. Dolby then took them away and chose the ones he liked best. The reality has elements to this but not quite as romanticised Howard Hughes in nature.
Everything about this lp is so familiar , I know it inside out , even when to do that strange little sniff at the start of Bonny (turn it up and have a listen). The fact that it has stayed so high is because it manages the feat of somehow being comfortably familiar but still able to get me to sit in awe at its surprises
Again Dolby manages to give the lp that sheen but also keep hold of the quirkiness which is at the heart of why it has been so enduring. Non of this would have worked if the songs had been merely okay , but the anniversary edition with the stripped down acoustic versions show how strong a set they are
There is a kind of 10cc I'm not in love lushness on one hand but still a bit of an edge to Paddy's vocals (on some more recent songs the personality has been almost polished away). Live versions give a clue to what a Dolby less lp may have sounded like
Fall be free as old confetti
The acoustic versions of the lp that Paddy recorded for a recent re release show the quality of the songs and are a great listen but I miss the small oddities in the production and rough edges around his vocals
There is a great interview with Thomas Dolby on making the lp here
As an lp it is another slow burn (only getting one place higher in the lp charts at 21 than debut lp Swoon) with none of the singles initially making the chart. I remember at the end of the year Mark Goodyear doing a top 40 run down of singles voted to for by the listeners of radio one, the one criteria being that the single they voted for hadn't made the top 40 . Three of the top Five were the 3 flop singles from side 1 on the lp. However, the lp started appearing in end of year best of lists and since then has been a feature in best lps charts ever since.
wishing she could call him heartache but its not a boys name
I don't think any lp I own has a stronger opening side and this bit of throwaway pop is the worst thing on it , but still better than virtually anything else around
There is a time for tears
For something a bit different here is an cover of Bonny by the Editors which I think kind of works , not sure where the images come from but they are a tad distracting
all my insights from retrospect
For side 2 the quirky factor is turned up with songs changing direction and wondering down interesting back lanes and closer in structure if not sound to those on Swoon. Songs that can be traced back to Gershwin Sondheim, , Bacharach etc but with a personality all of their own. They all had the kind of lyrical playfulness that had me agonising over meaning and interpretation.
Every song on the lp has at least one line that is just so achingly clever. Love songs don't have to be simply I love You and songs don't have to be simply love songs
You surely are a truly gifted kid
But you're only good as
The last great thing you did
The live clips are a bit ropey and showed they had moved on giant strides by the time they toured with Jordan
For cheating on the deal, pulling off the sting
Tuning up the harps, dishing out the wings
This is turning into a bit of meaning less ramble which doesn't really do the lp justice at all so best leave it at I really couldn't imagine a world without it