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Dexys Deify ‘The Feminine Divine’

Kevin Rowland 4673910
Credit; Daily Express

Kevin Rowland has grown up in public. From the time of the Dexys Midnight Runners debut, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ in 1980 he was denigrated by the music press, as fans bought the album and gave his band a No. 1 single, ‘Geno‘.

Yes, his band. It seemed that way, him leading, setting the band tasks to marshall them into a tight unit. He seemed full of himself, arrogant even.

And then there were the reinventions. Starting off brilliantly with the Celtic and Soul power of the multi-selling ‘Too Rye Ay’ in 1982, that eponymous ‘Come On Eileen’ led the charge. It was massive.

One of those all-encompassing culturally popular albums in a time when there wasn’t so much claim on our time and attention. Dexys Midnight Runners could do no wrong from here, could they?

How They Did Wrong

Let me be clear, I don’t think they did. I loved those first 2 releases and revered the third.

I was in the minority and although I feel smug that so many people are calling the album a classic now, ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’, appearing 3 years after all that success, created sneers at the time.

This reinvention seemed forced, the preppy, buttoned down and suited look after the loose-fitting dungarees of so successful ‘Too Rye Ay’.

And then there was the music. A 12-minute piece of discussion between mates on meandering, overwrought soul track ‘This Is What She’s Like’, a slow-burning opener ‘The Occasional Flicker’, even Rowland talking about his past in ‘Reminisce (Pt2). It was hated. Not by me, but by the majority.

And Dexys Midnight Runners were done. Rowland fell hard, still followed by the press and claiming benefits under the red top newspaper headline ‘Sign On Eileen’.

That’s the music biz…

Rowland Returns

Except it wasn’t usual. This is Kevin Rowland, he doesn’t do ordinary, never just regarding the music, regarding the style, the clothes, the band style, he was thinking differently. And he still is.

Credit; Cherry Red Records

The return, then? In 1999, 11 years after his solo debut, he released ‘My Beauty’, a collection of cover songs which were faithful and gained a generally good feeling for the music. But people weren’t talking about that.

They were talking about his styling for the album; remember this is 1999 and we were not having the discussions about gender we are having now.

The cover was Rowland in a dress and makeup, pulling the garment up to reveal his underwear.

He explained why, explained his reasons, the necessity for such a cover, but people either sniggered or complained.

The Real Return

Off drugs and with a new open-mindedness, it began with Rowland, who people thought was Dexys Midnight Runners anyway, telling as many outlets as he could that others wrote Dexys music too, not just him.

Then we had a new version of that much-unloved album at the time, the one that ‘Uncut’ later called a ‘neglected masterpiece’ and selected as one of the 1001 albums you must hear before you die, that album I loved anyway, ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’, had a new sonic standard and a new track to begin it too.

And the band was back. Well, some. They toured, I went to see them and when they kicked into ‘Let’s Make This Precious’, I had never seen so many seasoned gig-goers surge to the front in my lifeA new sonic sheen was added to ‘Too Rye Ay’ and then?

The Even Realer Return: The Feminine Divine

Credit; Clash Magazine

An album. A new album. An album of theatrics and slow, heartfelt beauty, ‘One Day I’m Going To Soar’, a sort-of covers album ‘Dexys Do Irish And Country Soul’ and now?

The Feminine Divine

This is a concept album. I’m not talking about 70’s Prog musical suites, although that would be great too. ‘No, ‘The Feminine Divine‘ is a discourse on women, as Rowland told The Guardian;

‘Through Tao, I learned about the concept of women as goddesses. I realised that women are powerful. Until then, I’d never really tried to understand them. That’s quite an incredible admission, really.’

And that sounds quite old-fashioned, clunky and behind the times. Kevin Rowland is 69 years old, which is perhaps why this sounds like it comes from another time. Different discourses should be accepted for discussion.

There’s another thing about the concept of women as goddesses, clear in a track called ‘My Submission’ – there’s an interesting relationship comment to be made, more of which later.

Firstly, The Music

A combination of Philly Soul, Motown and 70’s Funk, this is a triumph. That brilliance starts early with the opener ‘The One That Loves You’, Rowland almost spitting the verse as Soul horns flare around him, then take an RnB flavour and are joined by a mawkish Motown chorus. Shouldn’t work, but absolutely does.

Neither should the smooth Disco touch and Eurovision fun feel of ‘Coming Home’, or the Isaac Hayes moments. Yes, there’s Hayes here, but more of the soft, slow, sensuous bedroom Soul, here in the fuzzy electric piano and synth bass sweetness of closing ‘Dance With Me’ and confessional title track, in which Rowland as the narrator tells us how he treated women badly in the past through fear of their power.

The Lyrics

As someone who has loved Dexys’ and Rowland’s work since the beginning, that he seems to have come to an accommodation with himself is great to see. That the songs are clearly labelled as by him, Sean Reed, Mike Timothy and ‘Big’ Jim Paterson, Dexys’ trusty trombonist is a real progression too.

And that makes the lyrics in some of the later tracks on this album so interesting and perhaps troubling. On their reworking of an early song ‘Manhood’ (now with ‘(2023)’ added, Kevin talking to himself, getting things clear in his head, is back, before the band bounces and a piano flourishes, we even later on have a conversation in the middle of the song.

And then there’s ‘Goddess Rules’, which is Rowland and (I think) Kamaria Castang having a conversation about their relationship. It’s a little like a Prince song, a quiet chat with an object of affection, talking of helping her get dressed, but with more.

These are the rules of the relationship; one has to love the other and the other gets to do what they want. And with Rowland agreeing to all those rules; it has a feeling that bad things are being stored up for the relationship, that there’s power, that Rowland is succumbing.

Or is it Rowland? Generally, he has embellished his songs and singing with interview comments about his personal feelings and struggles. But is he singing about himself here? Or is this the unreliable narrator?

Either way, he has the last word, an agreement to the rules, an over-egging of the pudding, the word ‘alright’, not needed and perhaps making a point.

The point is driven home on the next track ‘My Submission’, vocal and piano, an almost musical theatre string-assisted song with the line ‘now you own me…I’m scared, but I’m excited.

This gives us something to talk about, to discuss, to add to the music; as Kate Solomon in Inews said;

The Feminine Divine becomes a bit “Wife Guy, The Album”, full of sensual, worshipful tracks about goddesses and promises to serve women forever.’

Rowland has always been taking a rounder view with Dexys’ music, more than just music, just look at the style of his recent garb choices, sleekly wide 20’s trousers with tight-fitting shirts and flat caps, pastel shades set off with co-respondent shoes. Quite lovely.

Is This The Album Dexys Always Wanted To Make?

Well, it’s AN album they wanted to make. Dexys Midnight Runners, now Dexys, make exactly what they want. And that’s why I’ve always loved them.

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