Prefab Sprout began as clever clogs indie hopefuls powered by singer Paddy McAloon's wordy, knotty stabs at pop sophistication, but by 1984, with their second album, Steve McQueen, they'd peaked a little early. The Thomas Dolby-produced gem came as close to a perfect album as was humanly possible. Critics raved, DJs gushed, but for a band on CBS it wasn't exactly flying out of the shops. Following an attempt to consolidate their kudos with actual sales with From Langley Park To Memphis (which at least hit the top ten with "The King Of Rock 'n' Roll") and then wrong-footing fans with a release of some (admittedly fine) demos (Protest Songs) it was then rumoured that the Sprout had a concept album up their sleeves. Well, it was true. Kinda!
Though only one disc, Jordan's many moods, tempos and themes makes it seem more like a double. Split into quarters (straight songs, a suite about Elvis, a pop medley and finally some songs about the subject of aging), it challenges ...McQueen's position as THE Prefab classic, while leaving one somewhat over-satiated. Such is its richness.
In fact Jordan... consolidates the band's newfound commercial clout with McAloon's tendency to fit at least three songs into every one. Confirmed as a songwriter of considerable genius, he now explored genres aplenty: "One Of The Broken" (sung from the vantage point of God - never let it be said that Paddy lacked ambition) is a country song while "Carnival 2000" toys with samba. Dolby returned to the desk, supplying the synth and string, reverb-drenched fairy dust that McAloon's songs of religion, loss and love demanded.
At times it comes uncomfortably close to cloying - especially on "We Let The Stars Go" or "All The World Loves Lovers" - or too clever for its own good ("Michael" - subject: Lucifer longs to return to paradise) yet is always rescued by the heart-tugging meodies or scintillating arrangements that never hang around long enough for boredom or familiarity to set in. The 'Jesse James' numbers (equating the Western outlaw to a reclusive Elvis, holed up in Vegas) are especially fine with their recurring themes.
Prefab Sprout longed to make pop music, but were always far too intelligent and inventive to do anything so straightforward. Like George Gershwin transported into Brian Wilson's sandbox, Jordan... is equal parts passionate, philosophical and preposterous. Nothing else sounds like it. --Chris Jones
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