Two Wheels Good: A Cassanova’s Survival Guide

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You surely are a truly gifted kid
But you’re only good as
The last great thing you did
And where’ve you been since then
Did the schedule get you down?
I hear you’ve got a new girlfriend
How’s the wife taking it?

(from the song Moving The River)

With this one gorgeous verse, slipping out of some tall speakers at a late-night party in an Iowa City apartment in 1989 I was hooked. Prefab Sprout’s album Two Wheels Good has since been cemented in my psyche as the perfect album.

Known as Steve McQueen in the UK, Two Wheels Good features 14 songs that offer soul-plundering lyrics against a swath of teasing guitars settled into otherworldly sonics courtesy of producer/keyboardist Thomas Dolby. The genius behind the songs is frontman Paddy McAloon who one critic raised to the stratum of “Cole Porter or Stephen Sondheim for the Morrissey years”.

When love breaks down the things you do to stop the truth from hurtin’ you.
When love breaks down we join the wrecks who leave their hearts for easy sex.

(from When Love Breaks Down)

At the time I identified strongly with the ethos of the impossible relationship around which Paddy is constantly casting outlines. During a post-adolescence of intense loves and infidelities of my own, songs like “Appetite” and “Goodbye Lucille #1” hummed right along with my own earnest drives and subsequent struggles through poignant and clever highways.

Picking out the best lyrics to highlight is an exercise in folly. Every line counts with McAloon, and there are gems everywhere. But again, lyrics are only the half the story. The music is smooth and the melodies stir the deeper regions of the soul. The soundscapes are gently seasoned by lush and heavenly harmonies by Prefab chanteuse Wendy Smith, who to the ear represents either the lost ideal love, or the soft victim of the protagonist’s philandering, depending on the track. These songs are filled with wondrous ghosts:

And all I ever want to be is far from the eyes that ask me
In whose bed you’re gonna be and is it true you only see
Desire as a sylph figured creature who changes her mind?

(from Desire As)

Released in 1985, Two Wheels Good does shine with some of the aural earmarks of the age, but the timelessness of the messages and Thomas Dolby’s haunting production ensures the album too is timeless.

Life’s not complete till your heart’s missed a beat
And you’ll never make it up or turn back the clock
No you won’t, no you won’t
No you won’t, no you won’t

(from Goodbye Lucille #1)

 

Listen to or purchase Two Wheels Good by Prefab Sprout.