If this week had a theme, it would be “Austin Gerth is right, and I’m wrong”. I started watching the TV show Twin Peaks a few days ago, and I was totally disinterested in it. I had seriously decided that I didn’t care for the show and was going to watch exactly five episodes in order to give it a fair chance to hook me. I afforded Twin Peaks this extra opportunity to pique my interest (a twin pique, if you will) only because I knew Austin Gerth liked it, and he has a tendency to be right about everything. Sure enough, I was captivated by the end of the third episode.
So you’d think I’d have learned my lesson when I sat down to listen to this week’s album, Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout. I was going to give it a fair shake, because when Austin says it’s good, it probably is. But oh man, that first listen was a slog. It was dreamy and lacked punch, full of synth that suggested it was best left in the 80s. The best I could say was that it would have be good to do paperwork to. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t interested.
But, I realized, this also pretty much how I felt about Twin Peaks, which had captured me with how dreamy and under-spoken it was. So I put in noise-cancelling headphones and listened once more, this time with intent and care. And Goddammit all if Austin wasn’t right again. In the very first moments of the album, “Faron Young” are somewhere between Kerouac and Camus, searching less for meaning than for experience while a sick banjo accompanies in the background.
I said earlier that I originally thought Steve McQueen was dreamy and lacks punch. I still think that; after listening to “Appetite” several times, I notice that the chorus has a buoyancy to it. Where many artists hit the drops hard and running, Prefab Sprouts stays light on its toes, perhaps even staying in the air. This is a motif both in the sound and lyrics: Steve McQueen is transient and searching, never truly coming to a rest, even if it feels relaxed. The album is lively and changes mood readily: from floating, such as in “Desire As” to the more pointed and lamenting “When Love Breaks Down”. The album at times relishes in hedonism, as it does when it calls itself a slave to appetite or in the line that could be the thesis of the album:
“Desire as a sylph figured creature who changes her mind”.
Yet it then seems to admonish itself in “Blueberry Pies”, acknowledging the danger of this ceaseless journey:
“And your being good
Only depresses me, knowing how oddly I’m behaving
Hello stranger, the stranger I’ve become, I’m an air raid”
Steve McQueen deserves so much more than I was willing to give it at first. Each subsequent listen reveals new layers of artistry in this beautiful album with each song a variant and new perspective on the same theme.
9/10 Blueberry Pies