Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen
is everything I could want in a “pop” album (as nebulous a term as that’s become): its production is super-pretty, its lyrics are literate and humorous without being condescending in the slightest, it’s fun to listen to, and there’s just something
in the way lead singer and songwriter Paddy McAloon puts chords and melodies together that’s instantly gripping and gratifying.
I sort of wish I could leave it at that and let all you lucky readers decide for yourself exactly what kind of amazing album Steve McQueen
is (or, if you’re going to be that way, whether or not it’s amazing, or even good, at all), but professionalism beckons: this album’s excellence is immediate in the beginning of opening track “Faron Young,” which, incidentally, doesn’t really sound like anything else off the album. The track starts with twanging country guitars and rollicking drums, which the band cleverly invert to service their gorgeous adaptation of ‘80s pop. This is an album that feels slightly antiquated (on that note: you know those breathy vocal pads that are always in ‘80s pop songs? Those need to be brought back, stat.) but in the best way possible; it’s an album that takes the best aspects of the musical landscape that surrounds it and uses it to create something distinctly of its era and yet somehow timeless.
This timelessness is a result of that inexplicable songwriterly skill I half-described in the first paragraph. Here, I must take the ultimate cop-out and simply urge you, the listener, to get the album and hear for yourself. Hear how the pummel of “Faron Young”’s chorus magically dissolves into the gorgeously lightweight chorus. Hear how “Hallelujah” flows through a hundred or so of the weirdest chord changes possible, yet somehow comes out hummable. Or how “Moving the River” deftly switches moods multiple times before finally ending on the triumphantly angelic title chorus.
is a subtle masterpiece; a nearly flawless convergence of gorgeous, smart pop songwriting and immediately pleasurable production that divides itself into eleven songs that are both distinct and also separated by a common thread of excellence.