Dexys - One Day I'm Going To Soar
The world spins, time passes. The tastemakers make like St Vitus all over the fruits of your labours. Fates conspire. A karmic coin toss and your art, and its market value, heads for the pan. It’s a mug’s game of epic proportions. Sew your heart to your ragged sleeve and, gifted visionary or cash till chancer, you’re a prize tit no matter what. You wouldn’t wish Kevin Rowland’s okey-cokey with the critics on your worst enemy. You’re in, you’re out. You land on your feet, you land on your arse.
27 years ago, Rowland stamped all over his critical standing (and, no doubt, his pension plan) by releasing a six track album that, pretty much, no-one got. And even fewer bought. Don’t Stand Me Down delivered a heightened, complex, disarmingly candid barrage of chamber pop but its semi-improvised spoken word sections and lack of hit potential denied the masses another ‘Come On Eileen’. Some of us knew, but as the album and its creator disappeared from view, the critical tide went out and it looked like it would never come back. And then fate gets up in a half-decent mood one day and, all of a sudden, it’s the 80s’ great lost pop masterpiece. Dismiss it at your peril? You couldn’t make it up.
And now you don’t have to. Back for good? Who knows. But back in the best way possible? Most definitely. In an era of tired re-treads, sworn enemies jumping back into bed for a packet of biscuits, Rowland gets himself together and the band (kinda) back together while the muse still burns. Never one to do anything if it didn’t speak the (often unbearable) truth, you can imagine the irascible old bastard nodding sagely at Robbie Williams’ razor-sharp assessment of his own faltering position a couple of years back before re-joining Take That: “I’m bored and I’m lonely. I’m breaking me up…due to musical similarities.”
Not for Rowland the lure of the 80s retro packages. There were new songs to tame and a chance meeting with Mick Talbot (The Style Council) gave their writer the collaborative steering they needed. With original members Pete Williams and Big Jim Patterson back on board, this Dexys (now minus the ‘Midnight Runners’ – “it’s the same but it’s not the same”) can claim more moral high ground than most. A smart support troupe, led by Rowland’s new co-vocalist Madeleine Hyland (excelling here) and violinist Lucy Morgan, makes this new Dexys as bona fide as you like.
Even with the odd distraction to break the silence (most recently, a short 2003 Greatest Hits tour), Rowland joins a select group of buggers who we’re prepared to indulge for years, decades, while they snare inspiration. Kate Bush and The Blue Nile look like workaholics in comparison. Thank the Lord it’s all been worth it, then. One Day I’m Going to Soar is magnificent, an exultant, exhuberant work and its daring knows few bounds. Its reach is vast. Buoyed by the sweep of its Talbot-directed arrangements, it takes the austere template of its predecessor and kicks it around for fun. Strings, piano, barrelling percussion and always, always, Rowland’s cavalcade of words - a dialogue with the moon, the stars and his inner sorry self. You will laugh and you will cry. Rowland primes intimate tales of heartache with one-liners reserved for only the most fearless. It (sorry) soars.
Ballads spun from soft soul grooves, tempestuous blasters that set the house on fire. The mix of stylings is smart and the ups and downs makes for enough ebb and flow to demand it be heard as a single, continuous piece. This is how they’ve been playing it live and, so far, audiences have offered uproarious approval. It all makes sense but the songs are strong enough to stand alone. Take the opening ‘Now’, just Rowland and piano and a fireside nod to his Irish ancestry that recalls The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’. Prepare to be similarly unseated as the band appear unexpectedly and Rowland launches the first of several declarations of intent: “Oh, I know that I’ve been crazy and that cannot be denied / But inside of me there’s always been a secret urge to fly.”
‘Incapable of Love’, where Rowland and Hyland scratch at each other like alley cats, makes claims for Album Centrepiece (a la ‘This Is What She’s Like’, DSMD’s 12 minute fan favourite.) Soul pop via the music hall, it’s epic and explosive. “Fuck that! I’m not stupid!” screams Hyland as Rowland suggests she give him room to make their relationship more, mmm, ‘open’.
‘Nowhere is Home’, as smooth as Al Green and as earthy, sees Rowland revisits 1985’s ‘Knowledge of Beauty’ (“My national pride is my personal pride!” he railed, back then.) Older, wiser but as uncompromising as ever, he re-writes his own back pages. “National identity won’t fulfil me, I don’t fit that old kind of pigeon-ery” he reflects. “Take your Irish stereotype and shove it up your arse.”
‘Free’ fizzes like the best of Motown. The album’s most obvious choice for a single if they actually did singles any more of course, you could see this one getting radio play and a few albums sold. But then the chorus hits: “I can’t fucking wait to go outside and live my life” and it’s back to goodwill and word of mouth again. Still, there’s your art: it’s unlikely anyone ever put a swear word in a pop song to such sweet use.
If time hasn’t diluted Rowland’s invective, has it softened his heart? ‘Thinking of You’, a late night testimony (“So open your heart, let me come through”), is as string-soaked as it is gin-soaked but it does lovestruck with moving candour. Delicate sax sets the mood. It’s as feather-light as William Bell’s ‘Never Let Me Go’.
When Rowland sings “I want to be everything, I wanna be the man of my dreams / And I can’t be a fucking stereotype, but it’s lonely being here and living this fight / But I won’t give in, I will not cave in, until I become free”, it’s an arch, self-dramatising stance that forces you to either put trust in the vision or simply shake your head. Maybe both. ODIGTS isn’t for everyone. After so long, and with its creator unable or unwilling to do it any other way, it’s difficult to imagine anyone signing up anew. It may well be for converts only, which is a shame but this new Dexys re-emerge into a cowardly new world where glamour is cheap and two bob poets claim an audience for being chirpy rather than brave or insightful.
Still, for a work so single-minded, ODIGTS trembles with the back and forth of self-belief, or the debilitating lack of. Rowland’s songs declare his shoddy love like there’s no tomorrow and then destroy them in a heartbeat (“I’m incapable of marriage and commitment.”) But still, the wanderer has returned, in finer fettle than even believers had any right to expect, breathing enough fire to send the mocking naysayers scarpering lemming-like to the cliff edge of mediocrity. Everything old is new again. Again. We still need to talk about Kevin and this time you need to listen. It’s back on. ODIGTS is a riot, a bravura performance, a circus of colour, invention, magic, wit. It tests the limits of pop with haughty disregard for tired convention. We may never see its like again.