A quarter-century on from the last Dexys Midnight Runners album Don’t Stand Me Down (mocked upon release, now recognised as a work of genius), Dexys (so named because, says Kevin Rowland, “It’s the same, but also not the same”) return. Recent live shows induced collective rapture in audiences. Can the ‘comeback’ album possibly live up to expectations? It can. It certainly can.
Mention the unlikely 80s chart-toppers and some may recall the soul stylings of Geno, many more the violins and dungarees of Come On Eileen. True believers know it went a lot deeper, further, darker and brighter than that. Rowland sought a level of purity and intensity in the music that, while a triumph to those who embraced it, scared the herd mentality of the music press. He lost his path and confidence for a while. Now, more relaxed, showing the sense of humour that was always there but was oft-misunderstood, he’s created an album that’s equal parts confessional soul and theatrical music hall, and wholly sincere and spectacular.
There’s a narrative, autobiographical thread throughout the songs which traces a man’s maturing from doubt and over-analysis (Now, Lost) through relationship traumas (Incapable of Love) to epiphanies of individuality and self-acceptance (Free; the beautiful monologue It’s OK, John Joe). Along the varied, verve-fuelled ride, there are moments of wry, poignant insight (Rowland’s he-said-she-said dialogue with Madeleine Hyland is both candid and comedic), rousing refrains (“attack, attack!” chant the band) and romantic uplift. Elsewhere, She Got a Wiggle is as sexy and yearning as the Al Green shuffles it emulates.
The musicians, from Mick Talbot to on-off Dexys lifers like Pete Williams and trombonist Big Jim Paterson make every switch resonate, from airy Roxy swoons to earthy folksy stomps, while Rowland’s voice is more dauntingly expressive and piercingly heartfelt than ever. Nobody since Chairmen of the Board’s General Johnson has made interjections like “Huh! Huh!” sting so.
There is so much personality, poetry, vulnerability and resilience here that most other records sound like dry runs by comparison. Dexys are back with wisdom and wings. Some of us never doubted.
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