A Tribute to Steve McQueen (the alternative great escape)

Much as I’d love to do a rapturous riff on the super-cool car chase from Bullitt or the searing talent of the British director of Hunger and 12 Years A Slave, none of them are in any way connected to the glorious, impeccable 1985 album by Prefab Sprout called Steve McQueen.

Thirty years after its release, it’s still a joyous masterpiece; a high-wire cocktail of loopy vocals, diverging melodies and crazy-paving beats which go up, down, left, right and, frankly whichever way you want to take them.

It begins with Faron Young, track that feels like it has a motor up its bonnet with Paddy McAloon singing ‘I’ve lost just what it takes to be honest’. After this you know you’re in for interesting ride and the fantastic instrumental to finish off the track just proves it.

It’s followed by the gorgeous Bonny, the mad diversions of Appetite and the lethally addictive When Loves Breaks Down.

But Paddy – and producer Thomas Dolby – are just getting warmed up as we find on the next track Goodbye Lucille, a eastern-tinged delight which feels like it’s come in from a wholly different album. It’s lush, floaty and melodic. Like a swami master taking smooth strokes in a warm, delectable pool.

Then there’s Hallelujah at six, perhaps the most conventional song on the album, and Moving the River at seven which comes complete with the lyric ‘I’m turkey hungry, chicken free, I can’t breakdance on your knee…’ You get the picture. This would never have crashed the downloads charts. Catchy, yes, but also relentlessly challenging.

Finally we arrive at Horsin’ Around, a rapturous, round-the-houses classic with Bohemian Rhapsody-style detours. At times easy listening and lounge-lite, it blasts into life, ripping into a cascade of horns and trumpets that gorge on the senses and create a mesmerising, timeless rhythm. It’s a blistering, beautiful track. Pure love, there’s no other way to describe it.

After that, everything seems less brilliant but Desire As and Blueberry Pies are still of the highest standard while the final song When the Angels rounds off proceedings in style with a toe-tapping, suave sensibility that infects the whole album.

Ultimately, Steve McQueen is a super-clean, fresh and original work of art; shot through with with wit, style and lyrical dexterity. The polish and pride of the final cut is testament to the cool but devastating creativity of Paddy McAloon who’s still going strong.

He deserves to have his music listened to and widely shared.

Rustle up these Sprouts again.


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