Monday, September 03, 2007

My '80s Remastered - Steve McQueen

Prefab Sprout's second album Steve McQueen would probably make it onto a list of my top 25 favorite records of all time. Originally released in 1985 and produced by Thomas Dolby, it has been remastered (by Dolby) and paired with a second disc of newly recorded acoustic versions. The reason I checked out this album in the first place was because of Dolby's participation, and I remain glad that I did. It is a lush, dreamy album of pop songs detailing love and heartbreak. Singer/songwriter Paddy McAloon's influences range from Broadway show tunes to the '60s pop of the Brill Building writers to Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello. You get the idea - sharp, literary and musically complex. According to the liner notes this is really Dolby's album; "I gave him a huge collection of songs (some dating back as far as 1976), and almost all of the ones he picked were written in 1979, long before Swoon (the band's debut). I had no opportunity to test out any of my ideas about layers of sound. I had to get somebody who knew about that, someone on the technical side who was also a good keyboard player." Dolby fits the bill to a T, with his trademark synth sounds and production suiting the melancholy of the songs perfectly. And what songs! Bonny, Appetite, When Love Breaks Down, Goodbye Lucille #1, filled with sharp emotion and even sharper melodies, the kind of songs that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and you arms gooseflesh-y. My brother and I once had a discussion about this album and we determined that it's first 6 songs (side A of the vinyl version of the album) make it one of the best "sides" ever produced in pop music. I still think this true.

When Dolby was working on the remaster last year he wrote on his blog "I am in Los Angeles remastering Prefab Sprout’s second album ‘Steve McQueen’ which I produced for them in 1985. It sounds INSANELY good. Many writers and music afficionados list this among their top LPs of all time, and listening to it for the first time years, I have to agree. Even if I was objective, I would agree. It’s a stunner! The fact it was never successful in America is one of the greatest crimes in living memory. Paddy McAloon’s voice; those chunky guitar lines interweaving with soaring piano; Neil Conti’s tastful drum grooves; Martin’s melodic, inside-out bass; and Wendy Smith’s breathy bittersweet harmonies, all combined in a magic formula that was at once soulful and challenging. If you never heard this album, I urge you to seek it out. You won’t regret it. And, if you like my music, please know that you don’t have a complete overview unless you own this album and 1990’s ‘Jordan: The Comeback’–because these two works are as close to my heart as anything I’ve ever put out under my own name."

Dolby's remaster suits the record well and was a great choice for the project. His familiarity with the material makes it easy for him to preserve the vision of the original. The accompanying disc of acoustic remakes strips all of the production, focusing on the songs themselves, and some of the versions are arranged quite differently. I love these songs, and its cool to hear the difference, but I think I will always prefer the album versions. Today I share two of the most swooningly gorgeous songs ever, and I heartily recommend that you go out and pick up this remaster for yourself!
Bonny (Acoustic)
Appetite (Acoustic)

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