Record of the Day: Prefab Sprout, "Steve McQueen"

Record of the Day: Prefab Sprout, “Steve McQueen”

Prefab Sprout
Steve McQueen (CD CBS CDCBS 26522)

The protagonist of Woody Allen's “Bullets Over Broadway” was an ignorant and unscrupulous gangster, yet the Muses had chosen him to benefit him with an extraordinary theatrical talent; the message was: inspiration doesn't look at anyone in the face, when it happens it happens and the social condition or intelligence of the person receiving it is irrelevant.

Paddy Mc Aloon, leader of Prefab Sprout, is certainly not a genius nor has he produced (apart from this album) particularly memorable songs; he is a modest singer and a good part of the final result of this album is due to the loving care of the megaproducer Thomas Dolby: yet the Muses were particularly generous with him, giving him the opportunity to give life to eleven songs that made “Steve McQueen” one of the fundamental albums in the history of pop.

The pond in which Prefab Sprout swam was the same in which Paul Weller or Morrissey floated, authors of a melodic rock that was born from the still incandescent ashes of New Wave and singers of a renewed intimacy that explored the introspection of feelings after the destructive fury and punk nihilist. Mc Aloon possessed that extra something as a composer that significantly differentiated him from his colleagues.

Supported by good instrumentalists such as Neil Conti (drums) and Martin Mc Aloon (bass), assisted by the embarrassing little voice of Wendy Smith (too often modified by the producer Dolby's Fairlight for intonation reasons) Mc Aloon writes songs with an epic scope, with melodies unforgettable and lyrics full of shadows and ambiguity. The substantial pessimism that covers most of the songs on “Steve McQueen” is dissolved in the cheerful pace of the music, immediately catchy, which always hits the target thanks to songs now consigned to the empyrean of pop such as “Appetite”, “When Love Breaks Down”, “When the Angels”, “Moving the River”.

After this work however, just as happens to the protagonist of Allen's film, the inspiration dissolves; witness the uselessness of colorless albums like “Protest Songs” and “Andromeda Heights”. McAloon releases a terrible solo album and then essentially disappears; The mark of that flash will always remain on his figure, the moment in which he was visited by the Muses and became capable of creating, even if for a short time, something that really made the difference.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.