Anyone who listened to music in the eighties would certainly have a soft spot for the pleading beauty of Kevin Rowland and Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ monster radio hit, ‘Come On Eileen’, and band aficionados may even say their earlier hit ‘Geno’ was better.
Since those heady days, Kevin Rowland has struggled to come terms with his gift and has churned out some problematic recordings that have taken him from a position of high critical regard (1982’s Too-Rye-Aye, 1985’s difficult, but ultimately rewarding, Don’t Stand Me Down) to a lampooned career nadir (his Kevin-in-suspenders and drag covered solo album, My Beauty in 1999).
Recorded output has been scarce in the years since he bottomed out (no pun intended), but the defiant 2013 Dexy’s re-emergence One Day I’m Going To Soar hinted at a worthy middle –aged Rowland renaissance.
Now, in 2016, Dexy’s have released their latest effort, Let The Record Show: Dexy’s Do Irish & Country Soul – and it is, sadly, a spectacular regression to the largely unlistenable days of the late nineties.
After opening proceedings with the melodic, ‘Women Of Ireland’ – which is an instrumental version of the 1989 song by The Christians, ‘Words’, but attributed to a completely different set of songwriters, so someone is claiming credit that is not their’s somewhere – Dexys exposes us to pop music hell.
Next up is Rowland’s version of the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ (Irish? Country soul??) which features, definitively, the most spectacularly awful recorded vocal in the history of popular music. Flat, uninspired and devoid of emotion, it sounds as if the band had simply just asked some tone deaf drunkard in off the street to come and read the lyrics into the studio microphone.
The rest of the album rarely gets much better. Obviously emotionally significant to Roland, old easy listening standards like ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ and ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’ get a run, but these are cringe-worthy renditions.
Other ‘Irish country soul’ classics – like Rod Stewart’s ‘You Wear It Well’, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ and The Association’s ‘Grazing In The Grass’, have a sort of perverse appeal – much like listening to a pub covers band after you’ve had a few too many ciders and been granted a dribbly kiss from the person you’d bumped into on your way to order another one. For a moment you are transported into a sweetly receptive state, only to spiral into a disorienting and unpleasant state of being as the impending nausea threatens to take hold.
To be fair, the title is not totally inaccurate – there are some Irish ‘classics’ included here; ‘Curragh Of Kildare’ and ‘Carrickfergus’ for example, but these, too, are lacking in anything close to ‘soul’, and are never more than shamrock-lite singalongs.
By the end of the disc, if the listener has the stamina or sheer bloody-mindedness to make it that far, the culminative effect this album achieves is to perplex and confuse. Is Kevin Rowland just taking the piss? Or are we really meant to take this recording to be one of profound homage on his part?
Surely the dire cover of LeAnn Rimes’ hit ‘How Do I Live’ has to make us lean towards the former, and in doing so have to apply a different sort of listening criteria to the experience – comedy album of 2016, perhaps?
Ultimately, Rowland’s previous track record, patchy as it most certainly is, does contain gems, and the fact he has the potential ability to produce more treasure will ensure future efforts must still be listened to, but ‘Let The Record Show’ is not likely to be subjected to too many repeat listens from any of the brave and loyal few who may invest in purchasing this lame Dexy’s misfire.
Reviewed by Ken Grady