on 19 April 2007
Steve McQueen is an album I've been hoping to be re-mastered for years, along with Prefab's other great album, Jordan: The Comeback. Jordan was an incredible album packed with great songs diverse both musically and lyrically. SM was, however, more ethereal in its production with a sound that really has not been duplicated, ever. Most people who listened to their first record, Swoon, are aware that Thomas Dolby, the producer, had an enormous influence on the outcome of SM. Not only is the production different but the structure of the songs is better crafted. Having at first listened to SM as a record, I always felt that the CD version lacked depth. It must be added that the CD version I am used to is the American version of SM (called Two Wheels Good because the estate objected to the title). That version included a fantastic extended version of Faron Young, a great county cover of He'll Have To Go and one more track. When Love Breaks Down is also in an inferior state on Two Wheels Good, being slightly edited and mixed
Now, more than 20 years after its initial release the album has been re-released, re-mastered by Thomas Dolby himself. The extra tracks from Two Wheels Good are nowhere to be found. That is understandable since Dolby had nothing to do with that production and they were also not really part of the original Steve McQueen release. On a brighter note, the better version of When Love Breaks Down is intact.
Although some recent re-mastered versions have improved the sound quality significantly, often it is simply because the transfer to the CD was initially incredibly sloppy. Despite not being satisfied with the sound quality of Two Wheels Good, I cannot say that it was bad. Many CD releases in their early stages simply were substandard and TWG was actually above the average for that period sound quality wise. This makes the difference even more astonishing. It is as if the music was transferred into 3-D. Not only is there (much) added depth, the clarity and yet softness is way beyond what I am used to. I even suspect that Dolby may have done some subtle re-mixing to obtain this effect because this is better than most productions done even in today's standards. The only re-release that I can think of having been re-mastered closely as well is Fleetwood Mac's recent 2-CD edition of Rumours, but that version was initially transferred in an atrocious manner. This re-mastered version would be worth the price alone.
There is, however, an extra CD included in this release. Paddy McAloon decided to re-record acoustically 8 of the 11 songs from SM, as opposed to the usual demo/different versions/live versions/omitted tracks route. This is admirable both in regards of bothering to set so much effort in a re-release project (recording of the acoustic set took supposedly much longer than the initial one) and also taking the chance re-recording classics that probably are a hard act to follow. What surprised me is how complex the arrangements are. Instead of Paddy strumming through the tracks with a guitar in his hands, most of the songs are complex interactions of guitars woven together. Many of them are also re-arranged in a fashion that they are almost like different songs. This works well on most of the songs but it most be kept in mind that in general people listening to these tracks are biased, being used to the older versions, including me.
The standout track is, surprising, Desire As. The acoustic version is almost unrecognizable from the original one and, dare I say, better than the original one. Another track which falls into that category is When the Angels, a lovely version that brings the text more to life. The two tracks that I feel are lacking are Bonny and Goodbye Lucille #1. Bonny is my favorite Prefab Sprout track, period, so maybe that makes it simply almost impossible for me being unbiased, but the singing is way below Paddy's usual standards and the arrangement lacks cohesion. Goodbye Lucille #1 needed actually more re-arranging because the vocal interaction makes the song special but with only one voice it does not work out. Faron Young has a Western feel in this arrangement and becomes very addictive after a few listens. When Love Breaks Down, however, has a sweet feel, approaching the performance with a gentle approach once again but from a different angle. Trying to maintain an objective stance, I rate this version as a 4 star record.
This set, however, is a 5 star project, both sonically and musically and very worth purchasing, both for those who own it already and others who still lack one of the most ethereal and stunningly produced releases in the last few decades.
on 23 April 2007
Well, I was there back in 1985 when this album was a must-have and was played in student halls of residence up and down the country. It was just about perfect then, and still is.
The revelation is the bonus disc of acoustic versions: this on its own would qualify as one of the best albums of 2007, a 're-release' or not.
It doesn't matter if you're not a Sprouts fan: if you appreciate quality music of the sensitive singer-songwriter variety, I can't imagine how anyone wouldn't love this acoustic material. As a huge fan of Elliott Smith and The Blue Nile, this is now one of those indispensable albums of staggering beauty and subtlety.
Still some of the best lyrics every written:
"The sunlight makes a fence out of the forest
But here I am with head inside the bonnet ...
I've lost just what it takes to be honest."
Paddy's voice is exceptional, light and intimate in tone, hitting some rare and beautiful low notes here for a change. The multi-layered acoustic guitars create a detailed fabric of warm sound which, even without a vocal, would be worth a listen on its own.
It's very rare I get this enthusiastic about 'new' music, but this is exceptional. The kind of record you want to tell all your friends about. Makes you want to say God Bless Paddy, and without a trace of irony. Makes you want to swoon ... a lot!
on 23 March 2007
How do you improve on perfection? The original release of Steve McQueen was the crowning achievement of both Paddy McAloon (the Sprouts' resident genius) and producer Thomas Dolby. The fact that the album is remastered to an immaculate finish is enough to thrill any fan. It's a masterpiece that reveals just how powerful great composition can be when coupled with exquisite production. But the "expanded" segment of this release is what will overwhelm listeners. Paddy, in stark solo acoustic performances, manages to reinvent eight of the 11 songs on the original album.
Now, I must admit, I didn't have high expectations when I heard Paddy's long awaited next project was an acoustic rehash of old material. It has been long reported that Paddy is hoarding a cache of songs (maybe a dozen albums or more). For much too long, those compositions have remained cellared like aging wine, leaving fans to wait in tortured anticipation of their release. The eight remakes in this expanded edition of "Steve McQueen," however, are so radically reconceived that it's like hearing new material.
The acoustic performances highlight not only the clarity of Paddy's vocal cadences, they isolate Mac's precise chording and his mastery of guitar. The mix is so intimate, the sound so warm, you can almost feel Paddy's breath on your ears. The stripped down sound of Prefab Sprout's "The Gunman" album is pretty much duplicated here.
So drastically are these songs rearranged that they seem to take on entirely new meanings and dimensions. "Appetite," surveying the pitfalls of sexual desire, is less harsh in acoustic form. Without the whip-like percussion of "Faron Young," in its original incarnation, the song takes on a more serene edge with dollops of richly enchanting calliope sounds. The most radical treatment is given to "Desire As," which features an extended introduction with new words and an epic style reminiscent of the great Jimmy Webb.
Perhaps the most surprising element of these new versions are the lyrics. Songs I thought I knew by heart, surprise with words I'd never noticed in the originals. In "Moving the River," for instance, I always knew the line "turkey hungry, chicken free," but I never noticed "bucket by spoon: do you think that they'll like me when they learn what I do?" The classic opening of "Desire As," was always a favorite: "I've got six things on my mind: you're no longer one of them." But in the reworked version, the following line is highlighted and repeated over and over: "desire is a sylph figured creature who changes her mind." "Faron Young," meanwhile, adds it's lonely late night driving rhythms with allusions to "warships in the Baltic" and "stumbling onto Pearl Harbor without warning." The words were always there: they just never seemed to resonate as clearly as they do here.
Juxtaposed against the brilliance of the original album, it's hard to say just which performances are better: the acoustic ones or the originals. They are both inspired in their own way. Plagued by worrisome health problems over the course of the past decade, it's comforting to know Paddy is alive and well-- and sounding better than ever. Perhaps one day we'll be blessed with more new material from Paddy. Until then, this will do just fine.
From a little sleepy village just outside of durham came a songwriter whos purity and simple yet clever lyrics still send a shiver up and down my spine! langley park is a simple place...easy going and uncomplicated..simple and homely and reflected in paddys lyrics! (advertisement for a visit to durham over!)
the album received so much acclaim and hung around the charts for months without ever having a huge hit but 1984 was the time of culture club, duran and the new romantics and the pure guitar based pop only evolved later in the 80s with texas, the kane gang and such like!
it was a masterpeice beyond its time and still sounds as good today over 20 years later..from the rockabily/country pop of "faron young" and "when the angels" to the perfect pop of "appetite" and "goodbye lucille" to the heart stopping classics like "when love breaks down" "bonny" and "desire as".
cd 2 is paddys acoustic set and the songs arrangements put a whole different sound to the songs on the first album.."desire as" is amazing!
weather you are looking to revisit the pureness of your youth..analyse the amazing vocals and lyrics or simply was an amazing feel good summer album to play in the car this cd is a MUST HAVE!
on 18 August 2007
i grew up as a teenager in the eighties, while friends bopped to 'a-ha' or rocked to 'status-quo' i quietly pursued the works of Mr. Mcaloon and Co., during these formative years it was he along with Matt johnson (the The) and Morrisey/Marr that taught me the 'rules' of good song writing.
So with great joy i discovered that Paddy had re-recorded a collection of songs from his definitive masterpiece 'Steve McQueen'.
I played the CD of the new workings once, I cried, I played it again, i laughed, I played it time and time again, each time renewing different emotions re-released from a decade long gone. i played it home, I played it in the car, at work, I ran thru the fields naked chanting the lyrics to 'bonny'.....ok slight embelishment...anyhow,
Paddy, thanks for this rework, thanks for eveything you've ever done, no one has ever or will ever compare to you.
you are the Master!!
on 21 April 2007
Got this for my birthday and am so so pleased. Have loved Sprout since my sixth-form days (quite a while ago...)and have yet to find another songwriter who quite hits the mark the way Paddy McAloon does. Rediscovering much-loved Steve McQueen tracks on the accoustic disk, so creatively and beautifully done, is quite mind-blowing. Paddy's voice is richer and even more expressive these days. For fans who already have Steve McQueen from first time round, I cannot emphasise enough - get this new one. For those who have yet to discover Prefab Sprout - there's a fantastic back catalogue awaiting you out there.
on 4 May 2007
I have all of Prefab Sprout music. All the albums, all the b-sides, all the rarities. All? Well, not quite. Like you I'm missing these albums that are somewhere in Paddy McAloon's head: "Earth, the story so far", the musical about Zorro, etc. All this stuff that fuels fan forums discussions and which will probably never see the light of the day, because Paddy McAloon could not produce them the way he wanted.
But maybe it's better this way. Just think about it: "Steve McQueen", "From Langley Park to Memphis", "Jordan: the comeback" and the underrated "Andromeda Heights". 4 albums, 4 gems. Isn't this enough? After these, "The Gunman" was not as good and "I trawl the Megahertz" definitely doesn't belong to the Prefab Sprout history.
I have all of Prefab Sprout music yet I bought this new edition of "Steve McQueen". Because it sounds like never before, and because these 8 acoustic tracks are actually far more than an unplugged session.
So the world doesn't need a new Prefab Sprout record. The world just needs to (re) discover the best pop album ever produced: "Steve McQueen", by Prefab Sprout. 1985.
on 15 January 2012
The Prefab Sprout masterpiece that is STEVE McQUEEN is well known by now by those who seek intricate yet accessible pop songs with intelligent lyrics with a startling poetic intensity...So, the very special reason for buyng this particular remastered version of that masterpiece is the extra disc of acoustic, unplugged versions, which are out of this world...Yes, Paddy McAloon has done the unthinkable. He's interfered with his magnum opus and, well, made it better. The acoustic versions on the extra disc strip the original songs to their basics, but in doing so highlight the exceptional lyrics (it's often about the boldness of carefully placed repetitions of words and phrases that quickly gain in intensity) and Paddy's bittersweet sensitive vocals. The achingly long double-tracked guitar intro to 'Desire As' is utterly magnificent, one of many unexpected highlights in how it offers a heartbreaking deferred gratification on a poignant scale that eventually leads to the greatest of Prefab Sprout songs. There are so many breathtakingly wonderful moments on this extra disc that I won't spoil your enjoyment by attempting to list them. Anyway, you will have your own favourite moments, which is really what matters in the long run. This music reaches out in a subtle, intelligent, infectiously catchy way.
The original album is perfect as it stands, but the extra tracks on the second disc are more than anyone who loves Prefab Sprout could have hoped for. Make a friend of this album and you will never be alone.
on 21 May 2003
When answering the eternal question "what is your favourite album of all time?",the usual suspects come to mind...Revolver,Aja,It's too late to stop now......However it is this album'Steve McQueen'that wins out each time.It is quite simply superb;from the country parody of Faron Young to When the Angels,each track creeps up on you and stays forever.Having originally owned the vinyl version,I must admit that side 2 was neglected for some time due to the strength of side 1.However this only delayed the pleasure of discovering the gems on this side.I cannot recommend this album highly enough.
on 7 July 2007
Judging by the reviews below I am not the only just-turned-forty-year-old for whom listening to Steve McQueen is essential balm for the mid-life crisis. I remember seeing the Sprouts several times while at university and bought the original, what we now know to be first (according to the chronology of when the songs were written rather than when the album was released), album upon release. I had played through three vinyl copies by the time the kids arrived and the record player departed; no doubt my most played and most loved album ever. So there you are, I've declared my bias.
So what is it? Well, a version of the CD remastered by original producer Thomas Dolby (with a very substantial increase in sound quality) and a second disc of acoustic versions of the same songs. And unlike so many Legacy Edition-style projects where the supplementary disc is just window dressing, here it is THE MAIN EVENT. So do you need it? YES!!!!
Some quotes from Kitchenware Records boss Keith Armstrong from the launch press release provide some interesting insights:
"Paddy did the new acoustic versions last summer - we were laughing because they took longer than the original album. It was partly due to Paddy's inherent perfectionism. It's ironic that doing a simple record of songs took him three times as long as it did to complete the fully polished original album - but that's Prefab Sprout in a nutshell."
"Actually, it was Paddy who suggested, `Why not do them acoustically and see how they sound?' And because his voice is deeper and more experienced now, it sounded like a great idea."
"I like the songs with all the glitter and polish, but I also like them this way. I thought they'd be just his acoustic guitar and voice, but he rearranged them quite differently. It was exciting. I was expecting straight guitar and vocals, but because his voice had changed and because of the changes in arrangement I was blown away."
Listening to this disc answered a question that I realized has been lurking somewhere in the back of my mind for the last twenty years: why doesn't anyone cover Paddy's songs? They are after all some of the most beautiful ballads ever written. Well here is the answer, eight mindblowing covers by the man himself. Listen to track 3, "Desire As" as you've never heard it before. Extended to 7'08" with over two minutes of instrumental intro, it will send shivers down your spine. Surely, nobody else could have done it better and perhaps that's why nobody ever tried. Just too painfully perfect for words.
No, nobody is better qualified to cover Paddy than Paddy, and I for one am eternally grateful that he did. I note that none of the reviewers here have bestowed less than 5 stars. And I expect that all, like me, would have given six if they could. So all this only leaves one question; when will we see the acoustic versions on vinyl??