Prefab Sprout - Steve Mcqueen
Prefab Sprout epitomise that phase in my life. Marriage loomed, stability beckoned. Somehow I felt as if I had to leave behind Billy Bragg, the Chameleons and the Waterboys and Prefab Sprout fitted the bill of the sort of music I felt I ought to be listening to. This was laid back and easy on the ear. The production had smoothed out any of the imperfections caused by actually playing the music (as opposed to creating it in the sterile environment of an electronic-laden laboratory). One of my friends at the time went overboard on Prefab Sprout but in the end I just couldn't bring myself to go the same way. Perhaps, in spite of the changes I was experiencing, I was not ready for the degree of change which would make me go out and buy an album by Prefab Sprout.
Years later, I am back where I started. I have been through another set of changes. I have virtually given up mainstream music (at least new music) and have veered even further off the radar than I was in the mid-eighties. I am rediscovering the music which enthralled me when I was younger; discovering music I missed out on during my hiatus in the nineties; and discovering the music which is now coming out in the new millennium. I am back watching bands, the more compact and intimate the venue the better, and I am married (again).
So what on earth am I doing reviewing a Prefab Sprout album? More to the point, what possessed me to go out and buy it? I often associate music with a particular time or event and it would be expected, perhaps, to associate Prefab Sprout with the advent of a time when music went to the back burner in life. Imagine a condemned man who orders, as his last meal, his favourite T-bone steak....then he gets pardoned. Would he not forever link in his own mind a T-bone steak with that awful moment, never being able to look at it again without thinking of the impending doom he faced? In truth, the answer would surely be "yes". But remember, I did not buy this album then. I shied away from it. That link between time and sound was never fully established. Prefab Sprout escaped being associated with that time because I never completed the link, in my own mind.
So here it is then, almost music which never quite made it then, and which I can listen to now recognising that, in escaping from its clutches the first time round, I can sample it safely after the passage of time has dulled the association. This is a good album, in places. The soothing sounds, mournful almost maudlin displays of lost love and dulled passion weigh on the listener like a dense fog. I can appreciate this for what it is, now what it might have been. And, in places, it is good.
In truth, the whole of the first side (first six tracks on the CD) are a paean to a life and a love which failed to deliver the promise. Those tracks still sound fresh and stand the test of time. The second side (the remaining five tracks on the CD) are something of a let down, but that is due to the fact that the songs are weaker, less defined, less sharp. Prefab Sprout created an album of the late eighties, and then filled it out with five tracks which do not quite measure up to the standard. Does that typify the state of music in the late eighties? Is this how I prefer to remember that time?
Whatever the real reason, Steve McQueen is almost a classic. Its failure to achieve that status is due to the flaws inherent in itself, and not inherent in me. I am glad I turned away from it in 1988. Had I not, I would forever regard it as the condemned-then-pardoned man views that T-Bone steak, as bringing back memories which I would rather forget.
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