It’s not often that a CD turns up on my doorstep, packed with the most perfectly manicured pop and acutely observed homages to an old favourite band, so you can imagine my surprise when two arrived at once. The virtually identical covers, a pristine, polished British motorcycle against a faded wooden garage door, give only a hint as to the aural delights inside, an enigma the wistful, classic song titles on their reverse do nothing to enlighten.
Feed the motorbike-wheel picture CD into the drawer, and there’s no mystery to plumb any more. From the opening track on ‘Moveable Feast’, ‘Big Nostalgia’s gentle keyboard, bird-like clicks and chirrups and girl-cooing, and you know you’re back in that dreamy landscape inhabited by the object of this homage, County Durham’s long-lived Prefab Sprout. So close as almost to be the real thing, a loose conglomeration of musicians take us through what can only have been a massive labour of love for them. The sheer sweetness of ‘Signs of a Life Worth living’ is enough to induce a sugar coma, but soon tempered by the pleading regret of ‘The Man You Fell in Love With’.
The characteristic soft whispering style of this essentially nostalgic band is perhaps evoked most effectively in ‘High Shadow Skies’, with an irresistible pause on the harmonies that will keep you rooted to the spot. ‘Turn up the music’s wandering sax and dreamy melody will have the 80’s fetishists among you gagging for more, but this is a gentle imprecation to turn it up, not the funk stomp the title might suggest. The 80’s motif continues in the rolling ‘Forever and Never (The Genesis of Eden)’, with its ‘tide in/tide out’ synth breaks and hesitant drumming offering support.
A little bitterness is called for here, and ‘Don’t Tell Me Twice’ fills the bill, its arpeggio guitars leading into a rocker with a voice break and a three-step rhythm. ‘Give The Farm Away’s fleeting romantic interlude has a little hint of discord in amongst the pleasant ‘harbour at twilight’ atmosphere. ‘The Night I Murdered Love’ has a Spanish feel to the best guitar part yet, and a good, winding lyric. ‘When the Sky Crashes Down’ takes the mood floor ward even further, a slow crawl of a song, but with those sweet harmonies to relieve the mood.
‘The Queen of Hope’ takes us into more upbeat territory, with its satisfying changes of pace and twangy, sighing guitars, and ‘P.S. I Love You’s racy synth fills and hard beat provides an unexpected closer, to a CD otherwise erring on the side of sweetness.
Insights from Retrospect
‘Insights from Retrospect’ hits the ground running with ‘Bliss’, a gem-like James Bond theme of an opening track, with a languorous voice and a winding, refreshingly uncomplicated tune. ‘Love Junkie’s challenging title belies a gentle, piano-backed tune, with more ‘do be do’s than most bands would dare, in the background. ‘Wanderlust’s harp-like piano work and sweet voice is another confection that might prove a bit too cloying for most tastes. ‘Hannah, Are You Out There’s lusher; much improved love paean will make you forgive it the artificial sounding strings and piano.
‘Spirit Us Away’ is the moment the CD gets into its stride, a ‘getting away’ song that expresses itself succinctly and without digression, but for the cooing ’39 Steps’ that follows. ‘Fast Ships and Supernovas’ is back on track, with a good, bouncy beat, and ‘Finally September’s pizzicato strings, driving drum beat and riffing guitars finally give us what we’ve been waiting for. The chorus might be a little underdeveloped, but who cares when you’ve got a mover?
‘Charm Offensive’ is either a McAloon original, or they’ve got the Geordie legend holed up in an attic somewhere, a suitably witty and good natured song. ’Fall’s romantic piano is heavy on optimism, and, leading appropriately into ‘Love’, a swinging rhythm pattern with classic lyrics. Mention a zip code and you know you’ve pushed your audience’s buttons.
‘God’s Country’s acoustic guitar takes us down again to the CD’s closer, ‘Coming Home’ a spacey, atmospheric John Martyn style piece that leaves you lazy and very peaceful.
This group of Sprout aficionados have done their damnedest to evoke the revered late 20th Century band to audible appearance, and so it only remains to be seen if their work will either bear fruit, or provoke the original model to action.