The prolific songwriting talents of Paddy McAloon have long been admired. If he had his way there would probably be a Prefab Sprout album out every year. Instead we must console ourselves with the occasional new album and more reissues of their back catalogue. This latest reissue combines 1985's 'Steve McQueen' and 1988's 'From Langley Park To Memphis'.
'Steve McQueen' is a benchmark album for traditional songwriting, making sure each tune is laden with hooks and rendered absolutely timeless. 'Faron Young' is a strangely aggressive country rock number dedicated to the American C&W star; like the title of the album it was changed for the US edition after complaints from the families involved. At the core of every Prefab Sprout record is a feeling of romance; not in the overly-sentimental Chris De Burgh sense but in an articulate, intelligent sense of longing. It is this skill which informs the four-track run from 'Bonny' to 'Goodbye Lucille #1' and again on the desolate sounds of 'Desire As'. Then there's the maverick melodies employed on 'Horsin' Around' or 'Hallelujah' which doffs a respectful cap in the direction of George Gerschwin. Clearly McAloon is a man who has not been concerned with fashion but more acutely aware of feelings and how to encapsulate them into superior melodies.
Strictly speaking, the next album to be recorded was 'Protest Songs' but it took another 3 years for it be released. Instead 'From Langley Park To Memphis' arrived. Fresh from receiving a higher production budget the sound is glossier but importantly retained its familiar McAloon magic. Recent outings for Prefab Sprout have veered towards the middle of the road and the first seeds of this were sown in 'I Remember That', in itself a fine song but it does give the impression of cocktail bars. The rather light sounding 'Cars And Girls' hid barely concealed bitterness aimed at Bruce Springsteen (although after his recent September 11th album he proved that things really did hurt more than cars and girls). The unrepresentative 'The King Of Rock 'N' Roll' must weigh like an albatross on Sprout followers; yet despite it being their only UK top 10 hit - largely from the power of its novelty video and lyrics - there's a rather catchy tune there. The same can't be said for 'The Golden Calf' with what seems like an attempt to rock out and emulate Big Country's assertion that its possible to make guitars sound like bagpipes. The best moments are saved for 'Hey Manhattan!' a lush, string-laden epic that dissects the hidden heartache behind Manhattan's mask, and then there's 'Nightingales' an unpretentious love song whose Disney-esque quality Paul McCartney often aimed at but never quite achieved; it even featured a hamonica turn for Stevie Wonder. The Andrae Crouch singers help to bring the 'The Venus Of The Soup Kitchen' to a suitably grandstand finish. A very different album to its predecessor but one which made excellent use of a elbaorate production.