From Langley Park to Memphis
Even though Steve McQueen had some production sheen, it was essentially still an indie guitar album. From Langley Park to Memphis takes Prefab Sprout in a more adult contemporary direction – McAloon has stated that he was writing show tunes during this period. There’s an Americana theme, with songs like ‘Hey Manhattan’, lyrics like ‘Hot Dog! Jumping Frog! Albuquerque’, and the Springsteen pastiche of ‘Cars and Girls’. Following on the success of Steve McQueen, it’s also a more high profile release, with cameos from Pete Townsend and Stevie Wonder.
There’s some strong material here, but From Langley Park to Memphis is less than the sum of its parts – the sequencing where the first side is clearly stronger than the second, the adult contemporary sheen from a variety of producers, and the novelty hit ‘King of Rock and Roll’ all detract from the album. There are at least a couple of top tier Prefab songs here – ‘I Remember That’ is a beautiful piece of gospel infused pop. While it’s hard to know if ‘Cars And Girls’ is an affectionate tribute or a gentle take-down of Springsteen, but either way it’s a strong song in its own right. There are pretty melodies like ‘Nightingales’ and ‘Nancy Let Down Your Hair For Me’, but the awkward rock of ‘Golden Calf’ hurts the momentum of the second side.
Released in the middle of their 1980s’ peak, Langley Park is a key Prefab album, but it’s not quite the towering achievement that it could have been.