I want to preface this review with my extreme dislike of the band name Prefab Sprout. This band is doing itself no favors with their name and I believe it hurts their appeal, at least at first. When Austin came at us with Steve McQueen, I thought he was choosing some weird-ass indie album that he wrote a review on for MPR a few years ago. I respect the musical tastes of Mr. Gerth, but we do not always enjoy the same genres of music. The name Prefab Sprout reminds me of some angsty teens sitting in their parents’ basement, watching TV and brainstorming band names, the thick fog of marijuana smoke in the air. A mildly suggestive Green Giant commercial came on, and boom, Prefab Sprout was born (This is probably a stretch).
Long story short: The name sucks.
When it was announced, I groaned, wondering what Austin was getting us into.
But oh was I wrong.
This album is right up my alley in terms of musical styling, genre, decade, etc.
My father has always told me I was born in the wrong generation; that I had an “old soul”, built for life in the 80’s and prior. I have always been a fan of the synthetic pop and classic rock of the 70’s and 80’s, something this album taps into quite well. Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, and Paul Simon are among my favorites from this era, and Prefab Sprout has a very comparable sound.
I have listened to Steve McQueen close to 10 times this week and each time I find something new I enjoy about the album. My first listen instantly drew me to the first track, “Faron Young”. The reference to a country singer I recognized and the idea of being consistently disappointed by things in life vibed well. I also loved the picking of the guitar in the lyrics
“You offer infrared instead of sun, You offer bubble gum…”. This is a total “old school” country lick, most likely in reference to Faron Young. After the first track, I just kind of didn’t get why the rest of the songs didn’t sound like the first and was pretty disappointed.
My next couple times through the album were progressively more enjoyable as I went. I found myself enjoying the melancholy and overarching minor-vibe of the album. The tales of love and the sadness that comes with it really struck deep. I have only ever had one girlfriend in my life, but we have all had those crushes that slipped away or the women that just didn’t work out. “Bonny” portrays this super well and is easily one of my favorite tracks on the album. The sweet guitar lead in followed by some of the rawest vocals on the album by Paddy McAloon make this a wonderful track.
The $$$$ song on this album is definitely “When Love Breaks Down“. This song is the one that puts people in the seats, soaks the panties, and pays the bills. It starts off with a synthy piano riff that slowly brings us into the soft vocals. When the chorus hits, Paddy lets it loose, bringing us in emotionally to the words he sings.
“When love breaks down
The things you do
To stop the truth from hurting you
When love breaks down
The lies we tell
They only serve to fool ourselves
When love breaks down”
I can hear the pain in his voice, the feeling of love breaking down, and the lengths we go to “fool ourselves”. While not my favorite song on the album, this is most likely the best track on it.
The rest of Steve McQueen has some solid tracks as well, “Moving the River” and “Horsin’ Around” come to mind, but I enjoy the first half of this album much more. Cohesively, the album flows well all the way through, but if we go on a track by track basis, my favorite tracks are all in the beginning.
So wrapping up, Steve McQueen was a really great introduction to Prefab Sprout and the whole “sophisti-pop” genre. The band reminds me of a pre-1980’s English Hall & Oates with its soft rock/synthy elements and thought-provoking lyricism. I would recommend this to anybody who can get past the stupidity of this band’s name and is looking for some sad, retrospective love songs in the vein of the 80’s. This album offers sun, instead of infrared. Take that as you will.
Favorite Song: “Faron Young”
Favorite Lyric: “All my silence and my strained respect, Missed chances and the same regrets, Kiss the thief and you save the rest, All my insights from retrospect” – “Bonny”