CD Review of Steve McQueen: Legacy Edition by Prefab Sprout

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Steve McQueen: Legacy Edition
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Legacy
Released: 2007
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Offering the suggestion that Paddy McAloon is one of the greatest songwriters of the late 20th century to the average American will result in a blank stare at best…and, at worst, it might well inspire a belligerent query along the lines of, “Who the (OBSCENITY) is Paddy McAloon?” Pity the poor bastard who opts for the latter reaction; we Prefab Sprout fans are a devout lot, and while we’re generally also a pacifistic bunch as well, we’ll not be stopped when given the opportunity to spread the gospel of The Man Who Wrote “Appetite.”

Although Prefab Sprout have been essentially defunct since the release of 2001’s The Gunman and Other Stories, their possession of a discography bursting with classic albums has gone a long way toward maintaining Paddy’s reputation as a pop tunesmith of the highest order. While very timid bar fights have broken out in regards to the best of the bunch, it’s all but inarguable that Steve McQueen is among the contenders; accordingly, Sony Legacy UK has paid tribute to the record by releasing it as one of their so-called “Legacy Editions” and expanding it into a 2-disc set.

The album proper has been re-mastered by its original producer -- one Thomas Dolby, if you didn’t know -- and, as you might expect from a digital perfectionist like Dolby, it somehow manages to sparkle more now than it already did in the first place. The twang and jangle of “Faron Young,” the lush keyboards of “Appetite” and “When Love Breaks Down,” the Disney-inspired twinkle that begins “Blueberry Pies”…it all sounds wonderful. But, then, it’s always wonderful to revisit this disc. Paddy’s lyrics here are among his best, from the devastating lines that open “Desire As” (I've got six things on my mind you're no longer one of them”) and “Moving the River” (“You surely are a truly gifted kid / But you're only good as / The last great thing you did”), to, well, “When Love Breaks Down” in its entirety, really. All told, there’s very little wrong with Steve McQueen…well, except perhaps the fact that, in the United States, it’s called Two Wheels Good. (Blame the estate of Mr. McQueen for that one.)

Now, before we really delve into the second disc of this reissue, this much should first be said: its really a hell of a pisser for Legacy go out of their way to release a special edition of Steve McQueen but not include a single B-side from the era. And make no mistake, its not as though there was a shortage of them to choose from: no less than nine tracks made their debut as B-sides to the singles for When Love Breaks Down, Faron Young, Appetite, and Johnny Johnny (a.k.a. Goodbye Lucille #1), and as far as I know, they remain uncollected on CD to this day. The liner notes offer the written equivalent of a shrug, with Keith Armstrong -- president of Kitchenware Records -- indicating that the singles B-sides, with a few exceptions like Spinning Belinda or Donna Summer, were done with a disdain for B-sides. But we wanted to find good things to add to the package. Its an unexpectedly thoughtful sentiment from a label head, and the end result found Paddy recording all new (and all lovely) acoustic versions of eight of Steve McQueens tracks, but, honestly, didnt it occur to Armstrong that A) the fans want to have these B-sides on CD whether theyre actually any good or not, and B) even with the new acoustic recordings, theres still plenty of room left for them?

Leave it to Paddy to save the day, however; even despite its omissions, it would be an outright falsehood to suggest that these new versions don’t make Steve McQueen worth buying all over again. Stripped of Thomas Dolby’s era-appropriate production and put in sparser surroundings, Paddy’s already-gorgeous melodies are emphasized, as are the poetry of his lyrics. It doesn’t entirely move us from “disgruntled” to “gruntled” about this whole B-side thing (why do you think it’s 4.5 stars rather than the full 5?), but it’s considerable salve on the wound.

Unsurprisingly, there’s no word of Steve McQueen: The Legacy Edition being released here in the States -- and, no, we’ve heard nothing about Two Wheels Good: The Legacy Edition coming out, either, smart aleck. But if you’re a fan of sweet, sophisticated British pop music -- Squeeze, The Beautiful South, the Trashcan Sinatras -- and you don’t own any Prefab Sprout, head over to right now and order this immediately. Your collection is lacking without it.

~Will Harris