Review Summary: One of the most challenging, absorbing, immaculate and ultimately triumphant albums ever to be released.
Dexys Midnight Runners have lived a curious and outlandish career. Originally travailing as a punk act from the gang-ridden streets of slummed England, the Kevin Rowland-steered Dexy Midnight Runners made the stark transition into an amalgam of folk, pop and blue-eyed soul with their second album Too-Rye-Ay in 1982. I, like most humans, could have just stopped here, as it appears this is the most the populace has ever given a single chagrin for Dexys. "Come On Eileen" was one the most monstrous radio hits of the decade and it was the only remembered commercial success from Dexys Midnight Runners publicly omitted career, but they did release one album afterwards titled Don't Stand Me Down, which was a social troglodyte upon arrival. Critics and average Joe's alike despised the album; nobody wanted to hear the "Come On Eileen" guys making 8-minute heartfelt epics, nor did they want them to make an anthological story-telling album. No no, the public wanted to hear more upbeat folk pop that was only suitable for bobbing the head on a drive to study hours. The analogy would be if Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars released Agalloch's The Mantle; people would immediately scoff it off as a laughable attempt to be 'artsy.' This, my viewer, is a brimming error.
It is perhaps the twelve and a half minute suite “This Is What She’s Like” that most separates “Don’t Stand Me Down” from the foot-stomping rag-wearing cartoon version of Dexy’s that has been the traditional floor-filling staple of every party ever held since 1983. What a tune this is! Two minutes of studio chatter gives way to a killer first phase, which fades to a gorgeous a cappella “Pet Sounds” style harmony, which builds across a killer finale that knocks “Come On Eileen” into a cocked hat.
Listen also to the “Satellite of Love” feel to the reflective “My National Pride”. Or even the absolute outright thievery of the excellent “One of Those Things”, a song which Kevin Rowland belatedly gave Warren Zevon songwriting credit to (it is a terrific song, but a complete lift of the latter’s “Werewolves of London”) saying in the liner notes to a later re-issue he was “embarrassed” he hadn’t credited Zevon before. There’s also the hit-single-that-never-was of “I Love You (Listen To This)”.
Meanwhile the eight minute closing track “The Waltz” might have sat comfortably on “Tupelo Honey” without ever feeling like it had gate-crashed an Ambassador’s reception. This was an album released in 1985, which, to remind ourselves, was also the year of No Jacket Required, Songs From The Big Chair and Wham!’s Make It Big.
How could any normally functioning human being turn down Dexys masterpiece, ”This is What She's Like," a song that takes the listener in many directions, it is required listening. It begins with another conversation between Rowland and Adams, we hear Adams gently trying to coax out of Rowland before rhe track is launched on a mind-blowing 12 minute musical perfection adventure. Lyrics are fired at us like verbal missiles. The choruses apparently came to Kevin Rowland in a dream and you have to wonder how a conscious mind could conjure up such amazing twists and turns as these. Towards the end we are told 'the Italians have a word for it, I don't know a thunderbolt or something', we are left knowing a lot but very little about what she actually is like.
The line up for Don't Stand Me Down saw Rowland, Billy Adams, Jim Paterson and Helen O'Hara remain from Too Rye Ay, being joined by a range of other experienced musicians. The image had also undergone another transformation with Ivy League style gear and formal suits. No single was released originally from the album which, in 1985, was a brave decision and indicative of Rowland's desire not to be marketed as a commodity. However, record company needs dictated that a butchered edit of "This is What She's Like" was eventually put out, completely missing the entire point of the song.
Don’t Stand Me Down entered the UK charts at a lowly 22, three years after the release of Too-Rye-Ay. It would take many years before it was recognised as being one of the greatest albums of the eighties. In the end, what is humanity missing out on? Practically one of the largest collections of astuteness ever put onto a disc. Yes, it might have been released by one of the most unexpecting pop groups of the eighties with one of the most goofily memorable songs of its time, but no, them releasing their musical Odyssey does not deliver a 70-minute goof trip, but rather a challenging and enthralling album that takes its listeners on several turns. Come on Johnny-Ray, indeed.
Every song flows flawlessly
Blasting with endless originality
Has a distinct style