Some Things Mean More, Much More, Than Cars and Girls

All links removed at the request of money.

I had one of those arresting thoughts this morning during the commute, the kind you don’t want to have, but have anyway:

Would I still love the Replacements if I first heard them today, at my age, with all the music I’ve already enjoyed behind me?

Yeah, probably.

But it still gave me the shivers. Said thought came barging in while I was digging The Changes on the personal stereo system, wondering how I can appreciate something so derivative, namely the Changes’ wholesale style-theft of Prefab Sprout. It’s because the Changes jettison the current, fad retro-isms of early new wave and postpunk, the tired Joy Division etc influences, and make a relatively brave move into blue-eyed soul/new romanticism, which, of course, followed new wave as a rejection of music that had sought to cover any outward appearance of high craft. And trying on Prefab Sprout, as a central influence, isn’t easy. Even Prefab Sprout didn’t always get it right. It takes magnificent songwriting and tightrope-perfect production to make this type of pop ring true. Not even the Smiths dared add corny synths to songs so openly about love.

Scritti Politti could be considered a real contemporary, but it was less challenging for a smart listener to love them, since their lyrics , by quoting po-mo theorists etc and arriving coated in noise like Kajagoogoo, worked like some wonderfully cruel joke on populist radio. Although they had their intellectual moments (1984’s chinese-puzzle pop album, Swoon), Prefab Sprout and their main genius, Paddy McAloon, garnered respect from those who understood that to write like Smokey Robinson or Cole Porter, and not sound stupid, was much more difficult than writing like Green Gartside.

There were plenty of pretending contemporaries to Prefab Sprout, like Spandau Ballet and ABC, the Style Council, and Aztec Camera, who came close, as did the Smiths, although I wouldn’t compare the latter, since they were much more rockist. One could also say Prefab Sprout owes oodles to Roxy Music, especially to Flesh +Blood and Avalon. Unlike Roxy Music, Prefab Sprout openly courted the top forty while working out their strange obessions with the Beatles and Elvis Presley but sounding like neither. Only “Goodbye Lucille #1” admits influence, being an unashamed rewrite of “Hey Jude” but with funnier lyrics, as the older, wiser singer gently teases a recently dumped lad: “why don’t you join the foreign legion / You’re still in love with Hayley Mills.”

Their masterpiece remains 1985’s Steve McQueen, or its American-titled version, Two Wheels Good, which might be producer Thomas Dolby’s finest moment as a musican; not even his own stuff ever sounded this wonderful or perfectly matched in form and function. All tracks here are from that album, with the exception of —

which, according to some resources, is an answer to Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue; you’ll find it on 1988’s mildly successful From Langely Park to Memphis. McAloon and his brother continue to make albums despite band member departures, even to this day, but with steadily declining quality; they’re not the first place to go, if ever. But any greatest hits is worth your buck.

No one, not even the Changes’ label, Drama Club, or their own site, admits a Prefab Sprout influence, which is interesting considering how obvious it is, and how the last band to really try it was the Trash Can Sinatras, with almost no one else in between. Their first real full length, Today is Tonight, arrives in September. The following two tracks are from an EP released last year, and I’m still in awe of any American band attempting such sounds, let alone nearly pulling it off. It’s impressive to hear young-ish-sters reject more fashonable stylistic influences of the moment (thinking of you, Talking Heads). The Changes do throw in a little rawer guitar sound, probably a leftover from their plainly awful early work and also just because they were in diapers when their current stlye was first introduced.

For the record, I wasn’t close to driving, yet, in the early eighties. But I did rock an all-white pastel suit with soft loafers.

25 thoughts on “Some Things Mean More, Much More, Than Cars and Girls

  1. Wow, I’m glad I’m not the only one around here who sees the similarity between The Changes and prime Prefab Sprout riffage.“Steve McQueen”/”Two Wheels Good” is simply one of the greatest albums ever made.Heck

    Like

  2. Crazy, right? How rare it is to read someone noticing the link between the two? I can’t find anything. All the influences they cite are usually wrong, too.As for best albums ever made, I’m not sure, but I had to think about it, and still am. I sure do listen to it quite a bit, for an album I’ve owned for a long time. It’s hard to tire of, which should be a quality of the best of all time.

    Like

  3. Thanks for actually recognizing this band. They are too often and too easily forgotten. I agree – this was Dolby’s best work. I remember one article on them way back in 2001 in some british mag. But apparently a few years ago the British voted Faron Young the best driving song ever , so who knows.

    Like

  4. hi, isnt the one with the “Jonny” refrain actually called “Goodbye Lucille” (or somesuch) But thanks. Good to hear Appetite.

    Like

  5. J Frank can continue to tease: said white suit was rocked-accessorized with a Hawaiian style jungle-fauna tie, deep neon blue … Mr. Tapeworm was there …it was our Revenge of the Nerds moment, at the 8th grade dance, when we discovered that all the girls were so desperate to dance that they actually danced with us, because we would and the be-capezio-ed meatheads wouldn’t, and then we were good dancers, really good, and we knew the words to the songs, and the meatheads were so demoralized they didn’t even beat us up later … that was when they first tasted how they would always lose to us …

    Like

  6. sorry, now that I’ve heard The Changes (when i wake) I can say this song doesn’t remind me of the Sprout, but of the lotus eaters, if anyone remembers them. Poppy pop, but so nice, the Eaters

    Like

  7. Love the pre-Fab, but the most recent Trash Can’s record isn’t half bad. It’s got a couple of moments anyway.Off to see The Church tonight. I’ll give your love to the old L. Tan regular on stage. I think, however, the show may require a bourbon main line.

    Like

  8. That is one heck of a tale, Mr. Parnell. I danced with boys like you, only half turned out to be gay, amazingly.So wait, come with me — is there Prefab action in Aloha? The Crystal Skulls?The Changes are kind of neat, I like the unapologetic jazziness sans utter wankiness. Nice.

    Like

  9. Bill! Yes on the recent Trash Can not being embarrassing. They sounded only too old, which made me sad, not mad.Ah, the Church. So the visa problems are settled, I figure. That’ll be a good show. For a laugh, dare the opening act to do ‘Under the Milky Way.’Please ask MWp to do ‘Constant in Opal’ for me. And enjoy.

    Like

  10. Swoon fails masterpiece honors; too ivory tower.And as for the Changes – it’s okay – they can remind you of both Prefab Sprout and the one-album-wonders the Lotus Eaters, although they were less unabashedly pop than PS. Which isn’t hard.

    Like

  11. Oh, duh. Of course — Aloha is totally The Lamb Lies Down on B’way.The Crystal Skulls are definitely more in that vein that the Prefab one — not sappy enough, much too sardonic — but there’s tons of syncopation.

    Like

  12. went a’ looking for Crystal Skulls, happy to find what I found. Thanks muchly; the education of J Frank continues. Holding out on a Crystal Skulls descrip until I hear more. I like, I like, hearing upbeat Kings of Convenience, Go Betweens, Versus influences…

    Like

  13. You know, one of the things I liked about the TCS record was that they did sound old. They <>are<> old.“Got Carried Away” is a sublime pop song, and, lyrically, it doesn’t shy away from aging and things you learn as you age. Or something.They’re part of a new project, due in September, that might be great or might just suck:<>The Trashcans’ recording for the as-yet untitled album pairing scottish contemprary poets and bands, is a song called “thin air.” it was written by ali smith and features backing vocals by emma pollack (4ad records) and steel pedal guitar by graham lee from the triffids. the album is scheduled for a september release on chemikal underground records<>

    Like

  14. Bill – thanks for the trash info – Emma Pollack sings some nice stuff for all sort of people, and sometimes the Triffids dropped some swell stuff (cheap on vinyl, too), so that sounds inviting, that project. I’ll keep the eyes peeled.

    Like

  15. Just in case you missed it, Steve McQueen/Two Wheels Good has been remastered (by Thomas Dolby himself) and rereleased with a bonus CD of new acoustic versions from an in-form Paddy McAloon.

    Like

  16. Just in case you missed it, Steve McQueen/Two Wheels Good has been remastered (by Thomas Dolby himself) and rereleased with a bonus CD of new acoustic versions from an in-form Paddy McAloon.

    Like

Comments are closed.