Many bands from the '80s are seemingly content to play the nostalgia card. Get the band back together — with a few hired guns if necessary — sign onto a package tour with like-minded souls, and party like it's 1989. Dexys isn't one of those bands.
You probably know them best as Dexys Midnight Runners, the British ensemble that topped the charts in several countries with the irresistible 1982 single "Come On Eileen" (it stalled at No. 6 in the States). While that was their sole U.S. hit, they had others in their homeland, including "Geno," their tribute to soul singer Geno Washington; "There, There, My Dear," and "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)," as well as two top 10 albums, 1980's Searching for the Young Soul Rebels and 1982's Too-Rye-Ay. Following the release of their third effort, 1985's Don't Stand Me Down, which stalled at No. 22 on the U.K. album chart, but was considered an artistic triumph, they called it a day -- only it turned out to be 27 years.
After several false starts — and 1999's My Beauty, a solo album of interpretations of classic tunes by frontman Kevin Rowland on which he appears in drag on the cover (more on that later) — Dexys reunited with original members Jim Peterson, Pete Williams and Mick Talbot, the latter best known as Paul Weller's partner in the Style Council. Trombonist Paterson, who first joined the band in 1978 after he traveled from Scotland for an audition, says it happened via various run-ins with Rowland at tragic and celebratory occasions.
"I was a good friend of [Kevin's] brother as well, and unfortunately he died. I met [Kevin] at the funeral and we talked to each other. We just realized that we're such a good combination, not just me obviously, the whole group," Paterson recalls. "He didn't ask me at that date, because it was obviously a bad time. Then I saw him again at his niece's wedding in Ireland, and we got talking. We got in contact again a couple months later, and he said, 'Look, I'm doing this new LP, are you interested?' And I said, 'I'll have to think about it,' but it didn't take me very long to say yes."
With new recruits Neil Hubbarb, Tim Cansfield and vocalist Madeleine Hyland joining the fold, the resulting LP, One Day I'm Going to Soar, is likely the best album you may not hear this year, unless of course, you seek it out following its Sept. 3 release. It was issued last year in the U.K. to near unanimous praise, with Simon Price of The Independent calling it "the soul album of the century." While that praise may be a bit over the top, it is surprisingly good, and Rowland and Peterson know it.
"It's a huge and brilliant LP," says Paterson. "If you've seen us play it live, we do the whole thing in the show. People are just knocked out. We get standing ovations every night and we deserve the plaudits we get because we are good and the album is brilliant."
One Day I'm Going to Soar is a narrative about a relationship that begins with "Now," and runs through the initial stages of attraction ("She Got a Wiggle"), infatuation ("I'm Thinking of You"), love ("I'm Always Going to Love You") and heartbreak ("Incapable of Love"). And it's all top-notch material, so much so that "I'm Always Going to Love You" might be the best male-female duet about the dissolution of a relationship since the Human League's "Don't You Want Me."
"This is like our first album in a lot of ways," Rowland says. "I know that might sound ridiculous. We've had a lifetime to write it — 27 years." He adds that six or seven years ago, they realized that the songs they had demoed worked as a cohesive piece. "I remember thinking, if we put these songs in this order, it will tell a story, and once we had that, we started writing over bits and pieces to make that more congruent as a narrative, like we'd sort of let one song roll into another or we reference one song title, like at the end of 'I Will Always Love You' I say, 'Maybe I'm incapable of love.' It happened organically, really."
As for the new abbreviated name, Rowland says there was good reason to make the change. "What we wanted to do was say it's us, but we're different now; that was the reason for it. Dexys Midnight Runners is a young name, really, and we're trying to say we're not the same anymore."
Paterson adds, "And we can't run anymore, because our knees are knackered," before adding that Rowland is still "super fit" and he's "in awe" of his energetic performances.
We note that a lot of their peers from the '80s are content to tour as retro-acts playing greatest hits sets, which is something that Dexys has no interest in. "I'd rather slit my wrists that do that," Rowland says. "I couldn't do it. I would have to be sedated."
During our conversation, we joke that we're happy to see that Rowland isn't the one wearing a dress on the cover of the album this time, referencing his infamous photo on the cover of My Beauty. The phone line goes silent for several seconds, until we observe that our attempt at humor went over like a lead balloon. Later, we try to bring up the subject again, but we never get to chance to tell Rowland that we understand he was following a long-line of rockers that experimented with cross-dressing The Rolling Stones and David Bowie to Kurt Cobain. "It was 15 years ago," Rowland snaps. "Nothing to tell. All the past stuff is well documented. You can find it all on the Internet. You get it or you don't get it. If you get it, great. If you don't, it's all right. That's what I wore, I liked it, but I don't even want to talk about it."
That solo album was issued on Creation Records, the legendary British indie run by Alan McGhee, that was home to such notable acts as the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis. It was almost the home for the Dexys comeback as well, but "Creation went bust," Rowland says.
Against all odds, Rowland continued to work toward Dexys' triumphant return. "If we had taken the revival route, in the short term, we'd get more money, but it does mean something to us. Dexys does mean something to us. And that's one of the reasons it took so long, because we were aware of what we've done in the past and we didn't want to do anything that didn't live up to it."
Proudly, One Day I'm Going to Soar not only lives up to Dexys' past, it may surpass it. In short, Dexys are soaring again. Catch 'em while you can.
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- Kevin Rowland