We’re used to bands coming out of retirement to bolster their flagging bank accounts and flogging round the festival circuit peddling their greatest hits. This is exemplified par excellence this summer by The Stone Roses, who seem to be playing at virtually every festival there is. Thankfully not everyone is treading this over worn path
That particular carrot was dangled in front of him, says Kevin Rowland , the infamously intense front man of early-Eighties pop icons Dexys Midnight Runners ,when he was invited onto an Eighties revival package tour called ‘Here & Now’. “I went to see a show at Brighton Centre. I looked around, and I just knew it would’ve been so painful to do it, it would’ve hurt me deeply. It would be like admitting that all hope of a creative future is over. You know, if it’s just about money, why don’t I go and work in an estate agent’s”
“The tragedy of old age”, wrote Oscar Wilde, “is not that one is old, but that one is young”. In what’s already being called the comeback of the year, Rowland has, at the age of 58, reassembled Dexys for their first album in 27 years, to present a suite of songs which are all, at heart, about what it’s like still to be having “young” feelings on approaching old age
One Day I’m Going To Soar is a proud album of originals. It’s to a combination of personal introspection and extrovert, dramatic soul stomp that Rowland has returned with the latest configuration of Dexys (now minus the Midnight Runners bit). There are some musicians that have been there from the very beginning (trombonist Big Jim Paterson), have definitely been there at some point (bassist Pete Williams), may have been there at some point (Style Council keyboardist Mick Talbot), and some new recruits (Neil Hubbard, Dave Ruffy,Tim Cansfield, violinist Lucy Morgan reprising Helen O’Hara). The end result, however, is a striking resilience of concept, style and approach, evidence that it is Rowland’s controlling hand that still very much defines Dexys
The album is presented with a theatricality that puts 99 per cent of other bands to shame. Kevin, stamping the boards with an assassin’s swagger, inhabiting the songs, with Williams by turn his confidant and his guardian angel. As well as soul-baring, confessional drama, there are also moments of unexpected high comedy. The legendary yelping is now far more controlled, and when he springs up from a high-backed wooden chair to nail the line “I am so lost”, it’s breathtaking
The songs here present something of a story arc - from provocation, through conflict (the duets with Hyland) and ending in something of a resolution, albeit a very singular one. It starts brilliantly with ‘Now’, an epic that moves through several moods. Beginning with an aching piano ballad coupled to a borrowed folk melody, it pauses briefly before erupting into a jubilant groove, accompanied by that wonderfully familiar, inspirational horn section. Rowland is in simultaneously determined and confessional form here (“I know that I’ve been crazy and that cannot be denied but inside of me there has always been a secret urge to fly”), once again musing on questions of aspiration and national and personal identity. There’s a string-laden, heart-wrenching section in the middle that somehow means the song encapsulates all of Rowland’s musical and thematic concerns at once. The energy and drive of the post-punk era, the emotional and physical impact of soul, the Celtic tinge - it’s all there in this deceptively simple, vivid, direct and engaging six and a half minutes
‘Lost’ is another anguished song about childhood dreams, this time with the Irish voices of tradition suggesting Rowland needs to “face up to reality”. ‘Me’ the third chapter of ‘Soar’ tackles the emptiness of success. “It’s empty man, there’s nothing here’
The centrepiece of Soar is a five-song movement about his inability to love, starring the New Zealand actress and singer Madeleine Hyland. It begins with the smitten single ‘She Got a Wiggle’, continues with ‘You’, in which (in his live show) he falls to his knees to serenade a projection of her, and ‘I’m Thinking of You’, in which he admits to “setting up my sham” in the past. When she appears in person for the duet ‘I’m Always Going to Love You‘, he greets her with a “mmmm” noise that’s the vocal equivalent of Vic Reeves’s knee rub, only to get cold feet once he’s won her over. In a snarling, woman-scorned singing voice, she gives him the talk-to-the-hand treatment: “Kevin, don’t talk to me … You saw me as a challenge.” By the time we’re into the thrilling Motown-inspired insistence ‘Incapable of Love’ and he hedges by proposing an open relationship, she growls: “I’m not stupid”
The final act of ‘Soar’ kicks off with ‘Nowhere is Home’, possibly the album’s bleakest track. Rowland is inconsolable, but still dreaming of escape: “Take your Irish stereotype and shove it up your arse…I will become free”. This is appropriately followed by the upbeat ‘Free’, bright with piano and acoustic guitar. “Why would I buy a book when I could join a library, it don’t make no sense to me’.
By its tremendous conclusion, you know that One Day I’m Going To Soar is a triumph. The combination of the liberated Northern Soul-esque ‘Free’ and the melancholy ‘It’s OK, John Joe’ is inspired. The latter features a classic Kevin Rowland monologue dissecting love and dependence that feels at once righteous and desperately sad : “I still believe in love, I just don’t know what it is”
Dexys are the perfect example of learning from life, letting the years add to your muse and at 58 Kevin Rowland comes out of the other side, from the drugs and depression and the madness to make one of the year’s great albums and to prove that music can still have a beating heart. Once again at the helm of a tremendous band, his primary role is surely the brilliantly conflicted ringleader, his unlikely rehabilitation now complete
A work of genius
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