Panel from House of Mystery comic book issue #56, November 1956
Jordan: The Comeback is, in theory, like catnip for a music fan like me. First, it's a sprawling, nineteen song pop album. Second, and even better, it's a concept album about the parallel lives and deaths of Jesse James and Elvis Presley (supposedly). Third, it's by post-new-romantic sophisti-pop group Prefab Sprout, a band that is just outside my comfort zone of zone with its Cole-Porter-esque melodies and keyboard-heavy sound. So I grabbed a used copy I ran across, expecting an album that I could take my time getting to know, gradually getting past the glossy Thomas-Dolby production to enjoy the first-rate songs beneath.
Yeah, I'm still not there yet. I like about half of the songs on Jordan: The Comeback, but, after a dozen-plus listens, I was hoping it would have "clicked" with me better and sooner. I love Paddy McAloon's willingness to experiment with different songwriting traditions (my favorite Prefab Sprout song is the chugging country number "Faron Young"), and there's a lot to be said for the audacity of putting the songs "Jesse James Symphony" and Jesse James Bolero" back to back. But a lot of the experiments don't work well - McAloon should have stayed away from obvious doo-wop and samba pastiches. They don't work well with his smooth crooning and synthesizer-based arrangements.
It's too bad that I don't feel drawn back to Jordan for more listens because I really like the songs that have "clicked". As usual, I find myself fixated on a couple great songs tucked away toward the album's end. The uptempo and more conventionally poppy "Scarlet Nights" is one I loved right away - it may have something to do with the jangly guitar being so prominent in the mix. But I also love the song's soaring chorus with harmonies by Wendy Smith, and it has one of McAloon's characteristically excellent and poetic lyrics. And, with some of the grating circa-1990 elements removed, I can enjoy the melody and lyric without it feeling like a chore.
"Scarlet Nights" by Prefab Sprout