Review Summary: An overlooked masterpiece from the British Isles.
Background: Dexys Midnight Runners is a rather eclectic band that was formed in England in 1978 by front-man Kevin Rowland. With their origins set firmly into soul, they released a handful of singles before hitting Number One with 'Geno' in 1980, from their debut 'Searching for the Young Soul Rebels'.
In 1982, Rowland changed the style and direction of the band, and inspired by Celtic music, released 'Too-Rye-Ay', which contained the famous 80's crossover hit 'Come On Eileen' in 1982. If you haven't heard it, give it a listen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oc-P8oDuS0Q).
Then, in 1985, after touring and then a subsequent 2 year break, came back again once more. This time, the band's tour-de-force consisted of Rowland, guitarist Billy Adams, violinist Helen O'Hara, and saxophonist Nick Gatfield, recorded, in this music lover's opinion, their most interesting album in this band's short discography. Adopting a more professional style, Rowland sought to create a personal and ambitious record that stands out from Dexys older works, especially in the emotion conveyed through out this 7 (8 track for the Director's Cut) track opus.
1) 'Kevin Rowland's 13th Time' (Bonus track from the Director's Cut)
From this first track, one is already aware this is going to be a very different listen than the previous records, gone are the fiddles and too rye ays, in this track, Rowland states his place as 'the leader of the band', and with a lovely yet busy composition, it's a good new intro that helps to set a personal tone for the rest of the album. It also, if your listening to the Director's Cut, introduces one other new aspect unfamilar with previous works from Dexys: spoken verses.
2) 'The Occasional Flicker'
A personal, dreary, yet funky composition, something I'm happy Rowland did not change, sings and converses with fellow band-mate Adams about inner pain, and about wanting personal redemption, and the poetry of this song is something I appreciate a lot, and you can just hear the singer's inner turmoil. Good track overall.
3) 'This Is What She's Like'
The longest track on the record, clocking in at 12:23, is a mini-operatic track, broken into 4 sections. The first section lays down the premise, as Adams converses with Rowland about girl that he sees Rowland converses with, and then Adams 'what's she like?', then the song kicks into the first section, a lovely number containing a belt from Rowland which helps to showcase overall how much his voice has improved in this record. The third section starts with a soft and sensual piano, strings, and a nice choir before some bomp bomps kick in, then the tempo rises and things get into gear! Then, in quick succession, the last section bursts into a very funky and dance-able number, my favorite parts being the horns and the bass drum that keeps things going. Then the track closes with a fade. Great production, lyrics, and the vocals are some of the best I've seen from Rowland yet. Funny thing is, once the song ends, you realize he never quite explains what she's like!
4) 'My National Pride'
A slow and quiet piece, Rowland sings about forgetting where he hails from, about he had become detached from his heritage, and yet at the end, he proclaims 'My national pride is my personal pride'. The production is well arranged, all the elements blending into a wonderful, soulful piece which reflects Rowland's person feelings about his nationality. A wonderful piano solo closes the song. (The original title of this track was 'Knowledge of Beauty', Rowland felt he could not use the intended title, but this change was made in The Director's Cut).
5) 'One Of Those Things'
Essentially a cover of 'An American Werewolf In London', this track is arguably the weakest track on the record because it does not use an original composition. Rowland's take on the song is retains its funk, and he delivers his poetry using both spoken word and singing, along with occasional chatter between himself and Adams, as they inquire about Rowland's homeland of Ireland. While Kevin Rowland in recent years does not think highly of the song, it does fit the album nicely, and is a good track, while not completely original in its own right.
6) 'Reminisce (Part Two)'
A lovely little nostalgic number, this features something that seemed surprisingly absent throughout the album, a guitar. The vocals are delivered very nicely, and utilizing an acoustic guitar, piano, and some overdubbed lines, it is a great little ditty that helps to switch into into the next song.
7) 'I Love You (Listen To This)'
The message of this song is simple, yet effective in delivering it: Rowland is singing about the girl she loves, and the music itself sounds like it could have been a section from 'This Is What She's Like', and again, retains the funk that has been present throughout the entire album. A great speedy number overall.
8) 'The Waltz'
The final song on the album, the band decides to take it slow for this closer. A quiet intro, with Rowland's vocals being perfectly accented by the atmosphere created by the strings of O'Hara, the light guitar of Adams, and the drums and piano arranging to create a beautifully haunting number from which the album takes it name. The song, though somewhat pessimistic, seems strangely hopeful, as Rowland laments feeling lost, yet he requests that no one "...stand me down, or around/for I'll never stop saying your name/Here is a protest". With that, the album closes, and the atmosphere disappears.
Kevin Rowland refused to release a single to the album, saying that the music must be taken together, and because of this, and due to critics and fans dismissing the album, it failed both commercially and critically. The record label did release the first section of 'This Is What She's Like' as a single, with an accompanying video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-avJdGnHe0), but it was too late. Dexys broke up, and Kevin Rowland attempted and failed at a solo career. In 2012, though, Rowland reunited the band and released a new album "One Day I'm Going To Soar", so this story does have a happy ending. As for the album, I have nothing but the highest regard for this overlooked masterpiece of the 80's. The songs sound like long jam sessions, but the music, and lyrics especially, have gotten more personal, and for what the band had sacrificed to make this record, it makes up for in its raw and personal delivery that made it different from all the rest.