Saturday, 28 November 2015

Spiritualized ‎Pure Phase

Spirituailzed Pure Phase

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This album is often dismissed as a transitional release between two more substantial efforts, and while I don’t disagree with that opinion, Pure Phase is a fine album in its own right. Less suite-like than Laser Guided Melodes, with 12 distinct songs, this album is also less cohesive, and it has more moods as it veers between dreamy mood pieces and ear splittingly loud noise-fests. In general I prefer the former, as some of the more abrasive latter stuff can really test my patience, but though Pure Phase has its ups and downs some of the ups are pretty incredible. This album hits an immediate peak with the epic psychedelia of “Medication,” which starts with those church-y keyboards that play such an important role throughout the album. This 8-minute song is mostly very mellow but has periodic surges where the excitement is upped considerably, and there’s a certain uplifting euphoria and an undeniable sense of grandeur to the song (as with many of the best Spiritualized songs). Gorgeous flute highlights the more modest standout “The Slide Song,” while “All Of My Tears” is a pretty rewrite of an old Spaceman 3 song on which the dreamy, swirling sound again dominates. Even better is “Let It Flow,” which has more church-y organ and adds hooky gospel-y vocals as well, which would soon become an increasing band trademark along with the droning guitars that anchor their massive Wall Of Sound. The other highlights here are "Lay Back in the Sun," one of those (loud, poppy) songs that simply makes me glad to be alive, while the woozy "Spread Your Wings" provides a gorgeously affecting and suitably epic climax near the end of the album. Elsewhere, there are some pleasant songs that offer mere background music, and there are even a few that I tend to skip entirely, as Pure Phase to me is more about its peaks whereas Laser Guided Melodies was more about its consistency and start to finish listenability. Again, I prefer the former, but soundwise this was the album that pointed the way to their superior, breakthrough next release.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Various ‎Factory Records Communications 1978-92

Various Factory Records Communications 1978-92

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Disc 1 kicks off with the most important track from the double 7" "A Factory Sample", "Digital" by Joy Division. It still stands up as one of the purest examples of latent energy in pop music and set the stall out for the revered band's future. The next track by Cabaret Voltaire, "Baader Meinhof", is just as important - it heralded the introduction of one of Britain's most important electronic bands who cruelly dipped under the radar for far too long - uneasy listening made by Sheffield's pioneers. Factory gave them a bunk-up to the heights of Rough Trade before a brief sojurn with Factory in 1982 with the John Robie-mixed "Yashar" (included here). Other contributions come from A Certain Ratio, Section 25, OMD, The Distractions and The Names, all seriously under-rated and caned by the media back in the day plus the slightly more accepted Durutti Column weighing in with the beautiful "Sketch For Summer". Just about every track here was produced and mixed by the label's eccentric Spector-esque soundsmith, Martin Hannett. You can hear just how ahead of the times he was with the smash-snare sound and sparse dub-washed drum and bass sounds employed on much of the label's first 40 releases. The Names' "Nightshift" brings this home more than any other track on this 4 cd set and remains one of Factory's true missed opportunities for a hit. "Dolphin's Spurt" by Holland's Minny Pops is also a landmark single - brutal electro beats and monologue moodisms mixed with gravel-ditch deep basslines. Hannett was very very good at making sounds sound human and alien all at the same time. Check the remix of "She's Lost Control" by Joy Division here - even though the sleeve notes claim this is the album version - doh! The remaining discs run chronologically (to a degree) and are, by turns, captivating, annoying and stunning in almost equal measure. Compiler Jon Savage and archiver (and LTM label boss) James Nice have done a good job overall but I have to baulk at the inclusion of Royal family & The Poor's "Art On 45" over a track from their much-underrated pair of LPs...aside from this the disc is faultless. A few tracks from Belgian neighbours, Factory Benelux, makes sense although perhaps a free bonus EP disc of tracks from the Brussels label might have made more sense. Anyhow, the most important electro-disco single of all time is on disc 2 - "Everything's Gone Green" (the 12" version despite the sleevenotes) by New Order was so far ahead of the times it has gone beyond legend. Forget "Blue Monday" (awesome though it is), EGG is a blinder....crashing, clattering drums - hi hats from heaven and an eerie bass note that sounds like the Titanic's last breath.....I have seen kids cry to this.... Disc 3 catches up with the post-New York scene in style. Quite how Section 25 and 52nd Street didn't acheive an appearance on Top Of The Pops for the tracks "Looking From A Hilltop" and "Can't Afford" has been and always will be beyond me......sheer pop wrapped in a film of bitterness did not sit well with radio in those days - but clearly the former track did having been hammered by DJs in the States and over here (including me). It still sounds like it came out last week. Closing track, "24 Hour Party People" by Happy Mondays, eludes to the days of Madchester and the second wave of anarchy at the label. Money was spent on zany trips to Barbados and Ibiza for it's artists plus a £30,000 table for their new offices....yet the kids were lapping up the Hacienda classics, "Reach For Love" by Marcel King and "Hallelujah" by the Mondays and chalking up huge consumption levels of every shape and colour of tablet this side of Boots whilst dodging bullets. And that is where it all started to go a bit awry....suddenly 5 hetrosexual men (the directors of the label) were faced with death...of their previous icon, Ian Curtis, their wonderful studio enigma, Hannett, the boisterous yet lovable manager of New Order, Rob Gretton....and the death of their bank balance, drained in part by the incomprehensible incidents at their beloved (and hated) nightclub in Whitworth Street. Disc 4 - listen and weep.
A Rough Trade box set would never make sense, a Mute box set just might, a 4AD box set certainly would. But a Factory box set makes absolutely no sense whatsoever - which is why you should invest in this reasonable attempt at documenting one of Britain's finest 15 years of music, full stop. My only gripes are reserved for missing tracks - "Partyline" by the Stockholm Monsters (an anthem), "Elegia" by New Order, "Crazy Wisdom" by Section 25 (since there are a few Fac Benelux tracks here), "Arpeggiator" by Durutti Column, "Caught" by Anna Domino and the heavily-sampled "N'sel Fik" by Fadela...but all in all a good effort to gather the very best of Factory under one roof. What a story.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

One Dove ‎Morning Dove White

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ONE DOVE were a moody Glaswegian trio comprised of Ian Carmichael, Jim McKinven and Dot Allison. McKinven was best known for his stint in ALTERED IMAGES during their ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Pinky Blue’ period. This project couldn’t have been more different, especially when compared with his former band mate Johnny McElhone who formed TEXAS with Sharleen Spiteri. Producer Andrew Weatherall signed them to his Junior Boys Own label after hearing their independently released single ‘Fallen’ and became involved in the recording process, along with Gary Burns and Jagz Kooner from SABRES OF PARADISE who both later went on to form THE ALOOF. ‘Morning Dove White’ took its title from the Native American name of Elvis Presley’s grandmother. Seasoned by the icy but angelic voice of Dot Allison, it was something truly unique in the sphere of post Acid House electronic dance music. Dot Allison’s resigned opening line on ‘Fallen’ of “I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this…” is simply seductive. The accompanying groovy rhythm section on a slight off-beat makes it the most club flavoured track on here with the reggae-inflections of LEFTFIELD’s ‘Release The Pressure’ as its backdrop. Although often referred to as a dance act, ONE DOVE’s sound was actually characterised by primarily electronic textures with heavy processing influenced by laid back Jamaican dub and Eno-esque ambience. This recalled the work of former PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED bassist Jah Wobble who incidentally guested on ‘Morning Dove White’ and later recorded an album with BRIAN ENO called ‘Spinner’. The single versions of ‘Breakdown’ and ‘White Love’ reworked by Stephen Hague are actually quite brilliant, accessible and are far less intimidating than the full-on dub attack of the lengthy album cuts. But even as radio mixes, they are hardly the glossy pop of SAINT ETIENNE. London Records had taken over the Junior Boys Own label and wanted to make ONE DOVE’s music more radio friendly. The band may have been unhappy about the commercialisation of their sound and there is something to be said about fighting for your art but what is the point if people can’t access your work through conventional media and grow into it, especially if it is relatively radical? In hindsight, London Records were being well intentioned but this led to a dispute which delayed the release ‘Morning Dove White’ for a full year until 1993. A compromise was reached with ONE DOVE working with Stephen Hague in the studio during the remix sessions. ‘White Love’ is wonderfully dreamy with its subtle piano and gospel salvo predating MOBY’s ‘Play’ by several years. Their biggest hit ‘Breakdown’ has a surprising VAN MORRISON influence, taking its chorus from THEM’s ‘Here Comes The Night’. In both, Dot Allison’s sexily whispering vocals are the distinctive key. But ‘Morning Dove White’s crowning glory is the Phil Spector in the 23rd Century mystique of the stupendous ‘Why Don’t You Take Me?’ featuring Wall Of Sound effects galore and reverbed steel drum samples, it is almost funereal but actually possesses an uplifting quality. Although there was a Stephen Hague assisted mix sans steel drums available on the single release, in this case it was Andrew Weatherall’s original vision that is won the day. Of the supporting features on ‘Morning Dove White’, ‘There Goes The Cure’ is very ‘Twin Peaks’ in atmosphere, punctuated by Dot Allison’s chants of “he’s gone”. Constructed around some tinkling piano and deep ambient drones, its heart is suddenly invaded by Jah Wobble’s distinctive bass run before returning full circle with the aid of a dramatic percussive climax. Both ‘Sirens’ and ‘My Friend’ recall Weatherall’s work on PRIMAL SCREAM’s ‘Screamadelica’ while ‘Transient Truth’ is a superb instrumental with an ‘Ipcress File’ meets KING TUBBY twist. The echoey drum machine and the various incessantly repeated spy film riffs provide a suitably hypnotic soundtrack. With a promising debut album greeted by enormous praise and critical approval, a follow-up was eagerly anticipated. A reworking of DOLLY PARTON’s ‘Jolene’ and the song ‘Skanga’ which were included as B-sides to’ Why Don’t You Take Me?’ gave an indication of the heavier dub reggae sound that was being pursued. There was even rumours of a cover version of SIMON DUPREE & THE BIG SOUND’s ‘Kites’, the concept of which had the potential to be amazing. But there was no second album. It was recorded but never released. Frustrated and drained by business politics, ONE DOVE disbanded in 1996. Dot Allison went on to release a series of acclaimed solo albums including ‘Afterglow’ and ‘We Are Science’ as well as working with DEATH IN VEGAS and MASSIVE ATTACK.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Cocteau Twins ‎Garlands (Unremastered Expanded Re-Issue Edition)

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At the time of the recording of Garlands, Cocteau Twins were a trio: Robin Guthrie on guitar and drum machine, Liz Fraser on voice, and Will Heggie on bass. Heggie was sort of the leader of the group in a sense: his sinuous post-punk bass riffage drives all 8 of the songs here. It is this strong bass underpining that gives the album a real 1982 post-punk feel. I would compare this to the way Jah Wobble's bass drives Public Image Limited's Metal Box, or the way Peter Hook's basswork drives New Order's Power, Corruption, and Lies. So Heggie's bass is the foundation of the music of Garlands. Layered over that bass is a clunky drum machine, the Roland 808 if you believe the press. This was the standard drum machine for a long time, and it's presence here is very typical. None of the beats are challenging: they are there to provide a sort of metronomic presence in the songs. Robin Guthrie plays some of his harshest, punkest riffs on this album. The guitar whirs and screams with lots of high-end trebly distortion. His playing here is not as subtle as what he later became known for. Still, it is very in keeping with the times. The final element to the sound is Liz Fraser's voice. When Garlands came out, i i am sure that her singing was very unique. She squeals and warbles her way through lyrics that hover at the edge of comprehension. Her voice is harsh here, not as refined as it would become, but there is a certain power and presence to it. But like i said earlier: they were young and this album shows that. However, for what it is, it's pretty good. It's a dark, moody, bass and squealing guitar laden lost epic of the post-punk scene. For folks into this type of music, Garlands is something to check out. The album starts off with Blood Bitch diving head first is the deep bass. This is followed by Wax and Wane, a song which Mr. Guthrie was to remix in 1985 for the band's first American release. I know the version from The Pink Opaque better, and it still strikes me as odd to hear this orginal mix. Here, the drum machine takes center stage, clinking it's way through the beat. It is surrounded, enveloped, by Heggie's bass in an unstoppable riff -- perhaps the best he has ever done (although i say that with the caveat that his later work is largely unknown to me). Fraser and Guthrie see-saw their way through the melody. The overall effect: a fever dream of paranoia. It's a great post-punk song. The Twins follow that up with But I'm Not, a song in which Fraser cuts loose vocally. She sings a deep, husky, jazz-influenced (Etta James perhaps?) style that she wouldn't really return to for years. Her vocal theatrics make this song noteworthy, because otherwise the music is unremarkable after the intense riffage of Wax and Wane. Blind Dumb Deaf is up next, and is probably the weakest track on the album. It seems to be The Robin Guthrie Show, as the drum machine and guitar dominate the proceedings. Not bad per se, just not as good as the rest of the album. The next track, Shallow Then Halo is one i never really noticed until i listened to the re-mastered CD. I think that this tune, of all the ones here, really benefitted the most from the re-mastering. It sounds much less muddy in remastered form than it did in the original. Of course this is true of the whole album, but Shallow Then Halo had the most mud removed. In general, this is a good gothy tune. Fraser's voice is nicely layered, and you can almost uderstand her vocals here. The bass and guitar complement each other very well too. Suddenly, i find i like this song. Odd. The Hollow Men is less goth more dub, as the drum machine and bass notes echo about. Next is the title track, which is a good rocking tune. And finally, the album ends with the decent but not stellar Grail Overfloweth. Overall, this isn't a bad album. On it's own. It is a very typical album for the early 1980's, and it has a few tracks that standout among the general mass of music from that time. One thing about the 2 versions i now own. Until this version came out, the version you were most likely to encounter was a combined CD that included an early Peel Session and the 7" single for Speak No Evil b/w Perhaps Some Other Aeon tacked onto the end. That makes it a 14 track CD, and those extra tracks are pretty good tunes in this same general vein. This re-mastered edition strips the "added bonus tracks" from the album, and restores it to it's orignal 8 song glory. After years of hearing the compiled edition, this sounds somewhat incomplete to me. When Grail Overfloweth peters out, i expect to hear Dear Heart. It's wierd that it just ends, but i guess that is my problem, caused by my familiarity with the compiled edition only. And the re-mastering really works here. Guthrie did a fine job. Each song is less muddy than it was on the original release, and the songs shine in the added clearness. I guess that i kind of wish that Guthrie had remastered all of it, the album, the Peel Session, and the 7", and put out the whole thing. But oh well. Those Peel tracks made it onto the BBC Sessions disc. But i am not sure if they were re-mastered there..... At any rate, i would heartily endorse this record to fans of that early 80's proto-goth/early new wave/post-punk sound. Cocteau Twins had a unique interpration of that particular cultural zeitgeist, and while they had better work to come, this is certainly a worthwhile listen for fans of the genre. If, however, you are a Cocteau/dreampop fan, be forewarned: this is pre-dreampop Cocteau Twins. It's not what you think of when you think Cocteau Twins.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Teardrop Explodes ‎Zoology

The Teardrop Explodes Zoology

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Julian Cope isn't one to dwell on the past, but he isn't opposed to re-evaluating it, either. When going through some old tapes, he evidently found enough material to convince him to add one more compilation to the Teardrop Explodes post-breakup catalog. This set is evenly split between demos, early versions, and live tracks. As with any anthology of this kind, the sound quality tends to vary. The earliest songs, a few instrumentals from 1978, sound the roughest, but the majority of the tracks sound excellent. Audio clarity is hardly an issue, though, when legendary lost Teardrop gems like "Log Cabin" and the original "You Disappear From View" are finally unearthed. The latter's stripped-down sound is indescribably better than the cheesy, faux soul version that appeared on Everybody Wants to Shag the Teardrop Explodes. Just more evidence that their unfinished third album would have been another classic had Cope been able to keep David Balfe's synth at bay. While a few of the alternate takes aren't terribly different from the common ones, "Tiny Children" is utterly charming and upbeat, a far cry from the haunting take included on Wilder. Musically speaking, the best version of the group was the one that featured Jeff Hammer on keyboards and Alfie Agius on bass. The sometimes comedic differences these hired hands had with core members Cope and Gary Dwyer are highlighted in Cope's hilarious book, Head-On. But the diversity seems to have worked: this incarnation of the band is featured on exciting live renditions of "The Culture Bunker" and "Sleeping Gas," which both display the band's unique fusion of the sounds of 1967 and 1977. One would assume that the vaults have pretty much been emptied with this disc, even though several complete live broadcasts and many BBC sessions are still in the archives. However, based upon a disclaimer on the cover which states that Zoology is to rhyme with "eulogy," this may be the final word on the group. If that's the case, it's a fine swansong, tidily wrapping up the loose ends for longtime admirers of the highly underrated post-punk band. (There is an unlisted final track which is an interview with several luminaries, including Cope, concerning the fabled Columbia Hotel in London, a favorite hideaway for new wave artists in the early '80s.)

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Various ‎Lonely Is An Eyesore

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In a certain sense, Lonley Is an Eyesore functions as a time-capsule, a snapshot of Post-Punk circa the mid-Eighties, albeit a snapshot saturated with the particular shades and tinctures of the Goth-informed Dream-Pop of the 4AD stable. As a result, there is an aesthetic cohesiveness to this album that is unusual for a compilation, which stems from that fact that, to some extent, 4AD was pushing a particular (Ivo Watts-Russell produced) sound rather than the bands themselves. This approach was taken a step further with the This Mortal Coil releases, in which various 4AD artists were thrown together in the studio (under the control of Watts-Russell) to record cover songs dressed up in 4AD-style gloom. Despite this overriding emphasis on style over substance, Lonely Is an Eyesore holds up quite well 28 years later because it contains an intriguing mix of the influential (Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses) and the obscure (Dif Juz, The Wolfgang Press, Clan of Xymox), all at the height of their powers. The compilation was also released in a severely limited edition (try 100, of which only 30 were commercially issued), encased in a wooden box with a VHS supplement and a number of graphic prints.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Morrissey Vauxhall And I (20th Anniversary Definitive Master)

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In 1994, Morrissey told the world that he was retiring from music. After ten albums in ten years, and a life of near-constant touring, the recent deaths of three close colleagues was the final straw. The grand dame of pop music was bowing out. Vauxhall & I was to be Morrissey’s last stand. Of course, it didn’t pan out that way – the man came back with a new album the very next year – but it sure sounds like goodbye. Vauxhall & I is portentious, doom-laden, dripping with pathos and the settling of scores. It’s also the best record Morrissey has ever been involved with. No other album in the man’s storied career sounds like this; the spry glam rock of its predecessor Your Arsenal is missing in action – no doubt down to the tragic passing of that album’s producer Mick Ronson in 1993. Instead, Vauxhall offers eleven tracks which belie the influences Morrissey always touted, but never actively showed off. It’s a balladeer’s album – there are shades of Dion, Joe Meek and, of course, chansonnier extraordinaire Jacques Brel. If ever there was a modern-day equivalent to Scott Walker’s peerless first four LPs, this is it. The first five little words of “Now My Heart Is Full” set the tone: “There’s gonna be some trouble.” Screw the punctured bicycles on the last night of the fair – at the age of 35, Morrissey really meant business. The lights are low, the mood is sombre; a nagging two-note riff drifts eerily underneath proceedings. It’s the sound of autumn at its most tempestuous – the clouds are black, everyone has a storm headache, and it’s only a question of when the heavens will open. Come the chorus, they do. Morrissey’s voice rises out of the murk, and the rain starts lashing down: “Tell all of my friends…” Of course, from the murk, a smirk – “I don’t have too many…” From here, it’s a swirl of images, characters, situations; Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock gets a look-in, as do some “loafing oafs in all-night chemists.” Chorus after chorus goes by (the verse, by now, long vanished into the distance), occasionally broken up by some patented Bowie-style jangle-and-chug in the guitars. The drama continues to unfold (personal highlight: “Underact, express depression, aaahhhhhh,” [pause for effect] “But Bunnie, I loved you…”), but all we’re supposed to do is “pass by.” As if that’s going to be possible. Vauxhall‘s character studies are richer and more mysterious than any he had previously concocted – just what did the child in “Used to Be a Sweet Boy” do that caused his narrating parents to be so in denial? – and the wit and wordplay is deeper still. Take lead single “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”: three years on, Morrissey’s court woes would get an equally woeful song of their own in “Sorrow Will Come in the End”, but here, they’re dismissed in one wave of the hand – “Beware, I bear more grudges than lonely High Court judges.” And if at this point, Morrissey’s lyrics were untouchable, his composers-in-chief Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer took the bait and matched them to the best music of his career. Whyte’s delicate touch on the woozy “Hold on to Your Friends” is revelatory, while the wistful acoustics of “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself” are astonishing; one of Vauxhall‘s most unassuming numbers, it may just be the finest thing here. Boorer’s contributions are no slouch either, though, and his baroque “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning” is unlike anything Morrissey had ever done; this is where all of Steven Patrick’s dreams of being Sinatra finally came to fruit. Nowhere else in his discography can you hear Morrissey acting in front of the microphone like this - almost engulfed by Boorer’s clarinet and Steve Lillywhite’s gossamer production, his whispered croon, bordering on the androgynous, is revelatory. “Please don’t worry,” he intones near the song’s end, “there’ll be no fuss - she was…nobody’s nothing,” before being swallowed up in the undertow of shimmering cymbals and his own wordless cries for help. And then there’s “Speedway”. The savage, violent, brutal “Speedway”, the sound of Morrissey tearing the curtain down, all the scenery and props crashing around him while he petulantly plays to the peanut gallery. The song opens with him literally cutting his critics down with the sampled sound of a chainsaw, laughing at his foes. “You won’t smile,” he sneers just before the song’s thundering final act, “until my loving mouth is shut good and proper…FOREVER.” The music stops dead for a second, Morrissey having seemingly been silenced (for once). But then the ebow of death sneaks back up into the mix, Woodie Taylor’s drums slam down like hammers, and Morrissey continues to deliver his ultimate malediction: “All those lies, written lies, twisted lies - well, they weren’t lies.” Everything somehow continues to get louder and more intense, before the final twist of the knife for anyone who loves him, hates him, or dares to stand in his way - “In my own sick way, I’ve always been true to you.” Taylor nonchalantly clatters the song to its conclusion, seemingly not realising that he’s responsible for the climax to what might just be the greatest album of all time. Oh, and that bonus live disc? For once, it’s a revelation. In the illustrious setting of London’s Drury Lane, the Vauxhall tracks retain their atmosphere, while also gaining some balls. A rendition of “You’re the One for Me, Fatty” is almost improved by the sound of Moz constantly being groped away from the microphone by adoring stage-invaders, long-time live favourite “Jack the Ripper” is as tender as it is tough, and the segue from the freak-out finale of “The National Front Disco” into a stately version of ‘Moonriver’ is spellbinding. “I wrote that,” Morrissey deadpans at the end of the latter. He commands the song so well, you’d almost be inclined to believe him. It can’t be coincidence that, twenty years on, Vauxhall is the only album in his catalogue reissue campaign to remain unfuckedwith in any way, shape or form. For once - artwork aside - he knows when to leave well alone. Vauxhall & I is barely an album. It’s a performance, a recital, an audition monologue. It’s the synthesis of everything Steven Patrick Morrissey ever tried, finally succeeding in one glorious forty-minute burst. It’s a rock and roll suicide, and if you don’t understand what I mean, well…if you need anything more from me, I just can’t explain. So I won’t even try to.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Prefab Sprout ‎Steve McQueen Reissue

Prefab Sprout Steve McQueen Reissue

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1985 was a strange year For music. New wave was dead, and college rock was just getting going. The number of cool artists around was distressingly small, and they seemingly all came from either Minneapolis or Manchester. In amidst the jangle of the Smiths, the buzz of Hüsker Dü, and the synth washes of New Order, Northern England quartet Prefab Sprout’s second album, Steve McQueen, slipped in between the cracks as the elegant record that hipsters could chill out to. Popular, too, it hit #21 on the UK album charts. In the US, those bullies in charge of the estate of deceased actor Steve McQueen made poor Prefab change the album title. The band apparently consulted a caveman and went with Two Wheels Good (okay, now try saying, “mo-tor-cy-cle”). Despite its clunky American name, the disc still managed to crack the Billboard 200. So, we now know which artists Prefab Sprout don’t sound like. But their music doesn’t exist purely in contrast to other trends of the time. In truth, this album resides pretty snugly between the sophisti-pop of Style Council and the smartly written ditties of Aztec Camera. If you began the day with Café Bleu and slogged through the afternoon thanks to a spin of High Land, Hard Rain, then Steve McQueen would make for a perfect evening’s programming. Which isn’t to say that the music here is sleepy. Rather, it is daydreamy, creating its own lush little alcove of sound for you to drift into. This atmosphere begins with the soulful voice of leader Paddy McAloon. Even as he’s passionately warning us against the pitfalls that occur “When Loves Breaks Down”, the effect is far from bracing. And, when McAloon breathily croons the line, “Hunger stays ‘til it’s fed”, the outside world slips into a fog. Thomas Dolby’s keyboard flourishes also add greatly to the mood. Among chiming guitars, legato bass lines, and softly crashing cymbals, Dolby’s synth pads infuse the record with an ambience of dusky air pushing through a summer’s window screen. Steve McQueen is more than a pleasant mood, though. McAloon’s songs are mostly excellent. Along with lead single “When Loves Breaks Down”, the rockabilly-infused opener “Faron Young” is a bouncy, catchy, and complexly arranged number that could almost be mistaken for a cut off Meat Is Murder; “Hallelujah” references George Gershwin in its lyrics and 1970s soul balladry in its breezy sway; and late album beauty “Desire As” is a weary post-breakup wonder (“I’ve got six things on my mind / You’re no longer one of them”). As a testament to the strength of the songwriting on Steve McQueen, this remastered Legacy Edition comes with a bonus disc of solo acoustic versions of most of the album’s tracks, which McAloon recorded in 2006 specifically for the release. With only a six-string and his own voice, Paddy offers lovely interpretations of his two-decades-old songs.
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