Rippling with lush romanticism, Prefab Sprout's Steve McQueen feels as if it escaped between gasps as much as it was rendered into life.
The work of a songwriter desiring to create music of timeless resonance within the classicism of the Brill Building Americana, Paddy McAloon led his Prefab Sprout to create something else entirely, something at its core, far removed from its first impression- the kind of pop culture artifact that can leave you creaky and reeling; a salvo on the complexity of adult relationships, from the view of a writer clinging quietly and confidently to the romantic notions of love.
From the great adventure myths of the titular hero, to the pastoral splendors of the sly ballads within, a nostalgic sort of Americana pervades Steve McQueen - a cloak of sublime symbolic confidence rendered replete with gaping romantic loss. Nowhere is this idea more expressive than its opening track "Faron Young". A frantic yelp of impulsive yearning, McAloon smartly plays off the notion of the 'Hillbilly Heartthrob' while decrying his lover's vacancies.
Contextually the record is layered with subtle and unusual arrangements; rolling Fairlight synth banjo, ghostly voices stacked on top of one another, and eerily disappearing soundscapes. The layered lyricism of the record, however, transcends its sonic drapings (produced infamously by Thomas Dolby), helping push against the formalities and sheen of its era, revealing a record of beautiful, timeless pop music. With songs springing from the richness of Sondheim's influence, the lyrical landscape of Steve McQueen is a world with very good and very bad; a place where the sentimentalities of "Blueberry Pies" can sit amongst the repressive yearnings of "Desire As".
Finding inspiration and attitudinal direction in an unlikely merger of Steely Dan's Aja and the ornate romantic notions of Igor Stravinsky, McAloon chose to absorb influence while following a "private path" in his musical exploration: heart on sleeve, lipstick on collar; mired in the complexity of L-O-V-E and its faltering rhythms.
A set of songs rich in detail, Steve McQueen unfolds as an unlikely iconoclast, not a record of any particular time, but a record brimming with inspired moments.
*US issues of Steve McQueen were retitled Two Wheels Good