As a vehicle for singer/guitarist Peter Astor, the Weather Prophets of the four-song Almost Prayed 12-inch were proponents of ultra-mild pop, exceedingly pleasant trifles with provocatively off-center lyrics. Lenny Kaye’s production on Mayflower, the quartet’s longplaying debut, put some starch in the Prophets’ sound, bringing the rhythm section into play but keeping things tastefully light and, if anything, faintly countryish. Astor’s singing is likewise more forthcoming, but Mayflower — and Why Does the Rain (a 12-inch containing an LP track, a sloppy BBC session version of “Mayflower” and a cool instrumental, “Annalea”) — is still a few volts short of captivating. Only “Naked as the Day You Were Born,” an organ-based three-chord number that seems to be straining towards a minor freakout, hints that the band would not always be limited to such politeness.
Dropping guitarist Oisin Little from the lineup (although he still plays on half the tracks), the Weather Prophets made the uneven Astor-produced second album as a rocking trio. Despite a few individual exceptions (like the sublimely emotional “Born Inbetween” and the hip distorto-pop of “Hollow Heart”), Judges, Juries & Horsemen is a meandering and uninvolving indulgence in need of clear direction. One interesting item is the intense ’60sish “Thursday Seems a Year Ago,” in which bassist Greenwood Goulding’s organ work clearly prefigures Inspiral Carpets et al.
Temperance Hotel collects up some of the Prophets’ best scraps: a half-dozen charming BBC radio session tracks from 1986, four B-sides (including “Chinese Cadillac”), two demos (one a nifty version of the gospel “I Saw the Light”) and both sides of a bizarre single (“Odds & Ends” b/w “Stepping Lightly on the Ancient Path”) that was included in early UK copies of Judges, Juries & Horsemen. Not only is this compilation as enjoyable as either of the band’s proper albums, it’s no more stylistically disparate than the second. (The CD adds a pair of 1989 live recordings: “Hollow Heart” and “Chinese Cadillac.”)