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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In 1985, a band called Prefab Sprout spent 35 weeks on the British charts with an album called "Steve McQueen." It was released in this country under the title "Two Wheels Good." The album was alternately praised for insightful lyrics and panned as self-conscious. Now, it's been reissued with a bonus CD of new acoustic versions of some of the original songs.

Reviewer Tom Terrell is glad for the chance to revisit one of his favorite records.

TOM TERRELL: Back in the summer of '85, I was a DJ at an alternative rock station. I remember rummaging through the new release bin one night when I spotted this cool-looking import album cover. It was a guy sitting on a Triumph motorcycle with a blonde draped across his back, two more blokes posed around them, and scraggly bare tree branches poke through a foggy background.

Intrigued, I plopped the disc on the turntable and scanned the tracks.

(Soundbite of song "Goodbye Lucille #1")

TERRELL: I wasn't impressed until the fifth track, when a cluster of guitar notes cascaded like tears through the studio's speakers, and a melancholy voice near-whispered, ooh, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, there is a time for tears. You won't make it any better.

(Soundbite of song "Goodbye Lucille #1")

Mr. PADDY McALOON (Lead Singer, Prefab Sprout): (Singing) Ooo-ooo, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. There is a time for tears. Ooo-ooo, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. You won't make it any better. Ooo-ooo, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. You might well make it worse. Ooo-ooo, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. I advise you to forget her.

TERRELL: My world stopped. That song, "Goodbye Lucille #1," was my song. I was going through the painful breakup of a long relationship, and when Paddy McAloon sang, why don't you join the Foreign Legion. You're still in love with Hayley Mills. It was all the tough love I needed. The rest of Prefab Sprout's "Steve McQueen" was just as heartbreakingly bittersweet and close to home.

McAloon wrote all of those songs. He's just as good as Elvis Costello, but you could also hear Gershwin, Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael, and he did it all in Newcastle, in the north of England, far away from London, the center of British New Wave.

There's an old-school literacy and urbanity, a dreaminess, to his songs of love, guilt, Eros and heartbreak that's more '40s than '80s.

(Soundbite of song "Horsin' Around")

Mr. McALOON: (Singing) Horsin' around is a serious business. Last thing you'd want somebody to witness. I was the fool who always presumed that I'd wear the shoes and you'd be the doormat. You wonder why my hands are still shaking. In need of a cry the shoulders are taken.

TERRELL: The reissue edition of Prefab Sprout's "Steve McQueen" includes new acoustic versions of eight of the original tunes. For me, they're nothing less than a revelation. With just a harmonica, three acoustic guitars, and McAloon's bruised, soul-boy croon, the lyrics gained a level of emotional and intellectual sophistication that transcend all that came before.

This time, when I heard Paddy and Wendy harmonize the plaintive chorus from the song "Appetite," so if you take, then put back good. If you steal, then be Robin Hood. I comprehended for the first time how provocative that song really is.

(Soundbite of song "Appetite")

Mr. McALOON: (Singing) So if you take, then you put back good. If you steal, be Robin Hood. If your eyes are wanting all you see, then I think I'll name you after me. Then I think I'll call you appetite. Here she is with two small problems and the best part of the blame. Wishing she could call him heartache, but it's not a boy's name.

TERRELL: Twenty-two years after its initial release, this reissue of Prefab Sprout's "Steve McQueen" — the original Thomas Dolby productions and the new acoustic reinterpretations — never fails to surprise me, soothe me, intoxicate me, and lift me.

(Soundbite of song "Goodbye Lucille #1")

Mr. McALOON: (Singing) No you won't. Ooo-ooo.

BLOCK: Our reviewer is Tom Terrell.

For more on Prefab Sprout and the CD "Steve McQueen," you can go to our Web site, npr.org.

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