Review Summary: Other music fills my ears, but I still hear her sing.
Five years removed from their smash hit Steve McQueen
and since then slowly self-destructing and unsure of their future as a band, Prefab Sprout were close to the edge. Saddled with an inability to break through the American airwaves (mostly due to their refusal to tour the U.S.) and lessening support from their U.S. label Epic, the Prefabs were at a loss on what to do from thereon. Coinciding with this trying time in the band’s history was the return of Steve McQueen
producer Thomas Dolby, who had experienced success overseas with his 1982 hit “She Blinded Me with Science”. Coupled with Dolby’s heavily-detailed production and frontman Paddy McAloon’s ambitious idea for the band’s latest work, the Prefabs were on their way to birthing their masterpiece. Arriving just over a year after the scaled-down Protest Songs
, Jordan: The Comeback
immediately turned the tables on what the Prefabs could and could not do – for one, put out a multi-concept album spanning an hour’s worth of music and a multitude of styles unforeseen on any other Prefab Sprout record to date. Paddy McAloon truly went all out for what he assumed to be it
, suspecting this to be the end of the Prefabs as he knew it, writing nineteen songs that could be divided into four different sections with uniquely different themes.
Part one, and the most accessible portion of Jordan
, contains five songs with no connection whatsoever; songs with the most potential to be a hit single yet daringly experimenting with new sounds. “Machine Gun Ibiza” is sleazy, lounging about with a catchy groove and sardonic lyrical quips to boot, while the lively samba that drives “Carnival 2000” perfectly contrasts with the lustful “Wild Horses” and the touching ballad “We Let the Stars Go”. Isolated from the rest of the record, this opening run of songs serve as a sampler of the various sounds the Prefabs could cover, but give the listener no idea of what the rest of Jordan
contains. The first of the three suites on Jordan
is introduced with its titular cut and a glaringly obvious idea of what this segment of the album concerns – the long dead King of Rock, Elvis Presley. Various references to the rock ‘n’ roll icon are made throughout the suite, such as his addictions (“Jordan: The Comeback”) and his life in Tupelo, Mississippi (“Jesse James Symphony”), all with an underlying theme anticipating his long-awaited comeback (“Moon Dog”), while offering parallels between him and the outlaw Jesse James (“Jesse James Symphony”/ ”Jesse James Bolero”).
The second of the conceptual suites focuses on love and its various effects, both good and bad. “All the World Loves Lovers” features a hopeless romantic as its narrator, always hoping for his love to last forever but always sounding like he has already had his heart broken one too many times; whereas the duo of “All Boys Believe Anything” and “The Ice Maiden” signal a sexual awakening from its narrator, the latter paying particular attention to the object of his dreamworld infatuation, the “blonde with disheveled hair” (who in turn was inspired by Abba’s Agnetha Fältskog) soundtracked to rather Steely Dan-ian programmed horns and breathy vocalizations. Returning to the theme of the comeback, one of redemption, is the final conceptual suite of Jordan
and the most ambitious sixteen minutes of music Prefab Sprout ever put to tape. “One of the Broken” opines on the difficulties of religion and worship while devoting itself to the power it has to redeem someone once broken, while the narration of “Michael” features Lucifer desperate for redemption, attempting to reason with the titular character for God’s forgiveness but not receiving it, despite the fact he “never could resist a sinner or ignore a distress call”. “Mercy” scales back, reducing the precedent drama to a mere hymn that appropriately bridges the gap between “Michael” and the anthemic “Scarlet Nights”. Giving way to the finale, an “acapella meets pure prayer” on “Doo Wop in Harlem”, which ends Jordan
on a very cathartic note, merging the sentimentality of earlier songs with the undercurrent of redemption and self-realization.
A purely ambitious record, Jordan: The Comeback
isn’t unique to the Prefab Sprout canon, but thematically is an oddity with concepts once briefly discussed in the past now fully exposed for all to see – mortality, romance, redemption both personal and spiritual all define the overarching concept of Jordan: The Comeback
, a record that is undoubtedly the Prefab’s magnum opus.