Saturday, April 16, 2016

Steve McQueen - Paddy McAloon and Americana

It's 30 years since Steve McQueen, Prefab Sprout's debut LP (released as Two Wheels Good in the U.S.). Paddy McAloon was just as good a writer as Elvis Costello, but with Gershwin, Porter and Hoagy Carmichael thrown into the mix. There's an old-school literacy and urbanity, a dreaminess, a hippie thing going on in his songs of love, guilt and heartbreak; it rings of the '40s more than the '80s. And he did it all in little Newcastle, in the north of England, far from the center of New Wave in London, even farther from the bastions of bohemian San Fran. Yet the climate was right for Prefab. "Life in a Northern Town" by The Dream Academy had skidded up the charts in the U.S. based on momentary hippie nostalgia (and a great tune), so it was Prefab at the right place in the right time that helped Steve McQueen shine. 

McAloon was a wildly cavalier composer with songs about regret ("Bonny"), lust ("Appetite"), and infidelity ("Horsin' Around") with an egregious and sarcastic flair. Add to that Thomas Dolby's production expertise and Steve McQueen is a constant here at AM.

"I've got six things on my mind you're no longer one of them/ (Desire as a sylph figured creature who changes her mind)."  Not the kinds of lines one hears in a pop song often, but that's McAloon. My take is that he'd grown up on Bernie Taupin. We never talk about Taupin songs, the credit goes to Elton John, but that romanticism of Elton’s melodies belongs to lyricist Bernie Taupin; romantic visions of Americana: scenes of cornfields and cattle towns, frisky colts and fringe-front surreys, gunslingers and Roy Rogers, Geronimo and a criminal for whom we should show mercy.  I grew up on Bernie Taupin as well, but not having the gift for poetry, I turned to storytelling. If I had that gift, Steve McQueen is the album that I would have made. This one's an AM10 and a personal 10 as well.