The Album List #35: Prefab Sprout “Steve McQueen”


Cool means cool.

What I remember most about Prefab is the ridiculousness of their single “King Of Rock and Roll”, which doesn’t appear on this album, but deserve a mention for the completely random lyrics:

” I am the king of rock and roll completely, up from suede shoes to my baby blues- hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque.”

These lyrics were matched by a video with Paddy McAloon  lazing around a pool with dancing hot dogs and a frog valet. It is simply one of the most bizarre literal videos I have ever seen.

The insanity of this song and video, the band’s biggest hit, should not dissuade you from the genius that is Steve McQueen.

Or maybe you know the album as Two Wheels Good. The U.S. title of the album is such because the McQueen estate threatened to sue the band. Typical.

See, the album is a masterpiece of disparate influences and pastiche, sadness and regret. Producer Thomas Dolby reportedly was given by McAloon a massive amount of material dating back nearly a decade, and was told to pick his favourite.   This created the varied genre jumps, but it also allowed for the delightfully fun “Faron Young”, with its banjo and lyrical references to the country singer’s big hit “Four In the Morning”, to be on the same album as the  very eighties keyboards of “Appetite” ( the Dolbyesque keyboards on various tracks had Paddy later lament the production).

The highlight of every Prefabs record is the lyrics. Paddy has a way with words. Lyrics like “And Dugan, who cheated in class, guess what he’s doing now? He’s a priest” and “I hear the songs of Georgie Gershwin” shows the humour and the ambitions of McAloon. McAloon made no secret his wish to be the writer of modern standards. He had the melodic sensibilities of a Gershwin and the lyrical genius of a Porter, but was living in an era where both were under appreciated.

McAloon’s band would continue on its merry way through out the next two decades, sporadically releasing new music. McAloon’s sight and hearing have both deteriorated over the last two decades due to degenerative diseases.  Still, he continues to release magnificent pop songs to this day. The band’s accessibility has ebbed and flowed, but they would never come up with a collection as wonderful as Steve McQueen. The near plain language of “Horsin’ Around”, the 80s schlock ballad tones of “When Love Breaks Down”, and the descending arpeggio chords that open the mournful “Goodbye Lucille #1” all make this album a delightful listening experience. I wish more people heard it.

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