“You are sitting in your small room but your mind is like a ballroom” – Alternative TV
Yes, Kevin Rowland has done it again, 27 years after the last time. It would be silly after a gap like that to say its been worth the wait, but this record does indeed soar and anyone who had a heart will surely soar with it. Listening to “One Day….” on headphones on a mundane crowded train, you can close your eyes and you’re in business class on the way to the Caribbean – flying high just like Kevin’s dreams. It has that power, that magic. It breaks through, it communicates and it oozes naked soul.
Music is your special friend, as Jim Morrison once pointed out so poignantly , but he might have pointed out that, like in real life, that only applies to really special music. So it’s a pleasure to say that Dexys’ 4th album, like it’s 3 predecessors, is one of those albums.
Musically we’re weaving between easy listening, smooth soul and the signature horn and string trademarks that chip in reassuringly from the previous albums. Perhaps the new kid on the block is the introduction of female lead vocals courtesy of Madeleine Hyland, which lend an ambient trance on ‘She’s got a wiggle’ and a sharper theatrical foil on ‘Incapable Of Love’ (the catchiest song won the album, hich curiously seems to prove the opposite of its claims) and elsewhere. ‘I’m Thinking Of You’ has an almost Disney-esque ambience for Rowland to inject his soul over.
‘Nowhere Is Home’ is the one song where Rowland veers away from the Love theme visited from various (often angsty) angles throughout the album. It features Kevin revisiting questions of identity and belonging, a feeling that will be shared by many who’s roots are beyond the simplicity of yesteryear. Untangling his feelings to conclude that freedom lies beyond cheap identity: ‘national identity won’t fulfil me’.
You won’t all agree on the greatness herein though – if Facebook comments are anything to go by, Dexys still have the ability to polarise opinion and indeed inspire contempt. Which in turn makes the faithful love them even more.
Criticisms? Well the album occasionally veers uncomfortably near Style Council territory, which is unsurprising given Mick Talbot’s appearance on keyboards but momentarily drops the sound down a division. The songs are on much surer footing when they employ the familiar, such as the Van Morrison-esque spoken word epic ‘It’s OK John Joe’ that finishes the album.
Whilst Kevin still comes over as the emotional malcontent of yore, there seems an older and sometimes wider head at the controls here, albeit steering the same pounding heart. There’s a subtle humour at play here as well, despite the heavy theme that permeates the album – that of Rowlands journey through various aspects of relationships and his various inner triumphs, failings and existential wranglings therein. This is a story of light and dark, not a struggle for divine symmetry – combined with the continuing natty threads, it’s the polar opposite of Hawkwind and all the more refreshing for it.
Previous Dexys albums have either been celebrated immediately or gone on to be lauded in later years, after initially lukewarm receptions. ‘One Day I’m Going To Soar’ too will be remembered as genius, either now or later. It deserves to be now – these are true redemption songs from someone who knows what soul means. You’ll either love it or hate it but it doesn’t really leave any room for much in between. Knowledge of beauty, in itself, rare, as the man himself once noted.
Yes, a mundane train journey turns into a magic carpet ride. And now an air hostess has just sat down opposite me. How fitting.