Still sturdy


Steve McQueen
Kitchenware/Sony ****

"I know I'm probably the best writer on the planet. Who are my rivals?" So said Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon in 1985, around the time of the original release of Steve McQueen, the northern English band's follow-up to 1983 debut, Swoon. It was an apposite if hardly humble question - McAloon's rivals in the mid-1980s were the likes of the Morrissey and Marr unit of The Smiths, Elvis Costello and Lloyd Cole, but none of them came close to matching the perfect anti-orthodox pop of Prefab Sprout.

McAloon was no fool: instead of merely following fashion and risking built-in obsolescence, he took a similar path to that taken by such classic pop songwriters as Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb, and even name-checked the likes of Porter, Gershwin and Sondheim. The result was what many people regarded as the Pet Sounds of the 1980s, a suite of songs largely about male desire, albeit one that took due consideration of female requirements.

Musically, it hasn't dated. Styles skip from roughshod (Faron Young) and wispy (Appetite) to pristine pop (When Love Breaks Down) and classic (Desire As). Lyrically, McAloon excels, mixing the personal and political with slippery ease, throwing in one liners ("I hear you got a new girlfriend - how's the wife taking it?") and multi-layered observations ("They were the best times, the harvest years, with jam to lace the bread"/"Is it true you only see desire as a sylph-figured creature who changes her mind?").

An extra disc of specially recorded acoustic versions of eight of Steve McQueen's songs is included - reason enough alone for those acquainted with this almost forgotten band to flash the credit card. Those unfortunates that haven't heard this record (remastered by original producer Thomas Dolby) are in for a very pleasant and rewarding surprise.

Download tracks: Appetite, Moving the River, Desire As