Prefab Sprout website: A Life of Surprises

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Rollmo! No. 11

PROTEST SONGS - THE LEGEND

O.K. so everyone knows about the album, that it was recorded before From Langley Park To Memphis and put on ice so people wouldn't get confused with 'conflicting' material on Steve McQueen and with two albums in the shop at the same time. But there’s probably still a few things left unturned by the music press that you didn’t know.
 
Here are the facts.
 
The album was recorded and produced by Prefab Sprout as a low-key affair and mixed during September 1985 (those were the days!) at the Lynx Studio in Newcastle upon Tyne by Richard Digby Smith. It was originally due to be released on 2nd December 1985 for one week only, as a limited edition to fans attending the "Two Wheels Good" tour of that year. It was even included in the tour programme discography. Then it got postponed to being released on January 12th the following year, in a limited edition of 25,000 copies. It never happened.
 
Protest Songs is, CBS said, to Steve McQueen and Langley Park what Nebraska was to Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run and Born In The USA.
 
The album was shelved due to the success of  When Love Breaks Down. Subsequently, a box of white labels went missing from CBS and ended up as bootlegs ("The Protest Demos") selling across Europe. Copies were exchanging hands for 40 each. Even now, these recordings are much sought after as there were later to be changes to some of the original recordings.
 
Finally, CBS and Kitchenware released the album in June 1989, after Michael H. Brauer re-mixed the tracks Dublin and Pearly Gates (originally to be called There'll Be No Stampede On The Pearly Gates) during work on the Langley Park album at Utopia Studios in New York. A surprise addition to the songs was Life Of Surprises, which had previously cropped up on the Nightingales 12-inch as a 24-track demo recording, produced by the imaginary Acapulco Rolf himself. Lance Phillips was brought in to enhance and remix the demo for its inclusion in Protest Songs.
 
To the uninitiated, Diana was an unexpectedly slower version than of the original performed at every gig since who knows when - other oldies from the gig circuit included were Tiffanys and Wicked Things. Melody Maker summed up any doubts over the concept of the album's title, "These songs, of course, are not 'protest' in the Dylan / Bragg sense … rather they are 'protestations', not raging but flickering against the dying light."
 
It was decided that the album be released without promotion of the album by the band, who in any case were recording Jordan: The Comeback during its release. Protest Songs had a mixed reaction by the critics, who were somewhat confused by its timing and the title.
 
And, oh, that beautifully graceful soft-focus bust of Wendy Smith on the sleeve cover. Brilliant - a contrast to the original picture of Wendy they had, wearing the same attire but looking more 'Swoon' than 'Langley'.
 
Then onwards to Jordan: The Comeback. Look at the scratched message on the groove run-out on Side One - it says, "THE COMEBACK’S UNDERWAY!"
 
John Birch

 

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