Formed in Birmingham in 1978 and taking their name from Dexedrine, a popular amphetamine on the Northern soul scene, Dexys Midnight Runners went on to become one of the most successful bands of the early 80s, amassing 10 Top 40 singles (including two No 1s) and four Top 20 albums - and that's without mentioning ‘Come On Eileen'!
After stealing the master tapes to their debut album (and successfully renegotiating their record deal in the process) the band released Searching For The Young Soul Rebels in July 1980. To mark the 30th anniversary of this release, the original album has now been remastered and comes in deluxe packaging with an accompanying disc of bonus material. The extras comprise of all the non-album singles and b-sides, John Peel and Kid Jensen radio sessions (which are being released for the first time physically) and five previously unreleased early demos.
The first of the three disparate Dexys masterpieces and one of the greatest UK debuts ever, this was – with hindsight – the bridge between punk and new romanticism. Upon its 1980 release it just sounded weird: brazen yet beautiful, both lovingly retro and caustically original. Kevin Rowland had growled in Midlands punk bands but now felt an epiphany. Soul, he decided, was the best way to channel dissent and desire. He recruited musicians who could actually play – and play horns – and layered lyrics over shapes mapped out by Stax and Motown.
The pulsating result opened up new rooms in the house of groove, yet it’s Rowland’s persona which dominates. His stressed, committed vocals and tumbling torrents of words remind one how rarely we hear visionary auteurs in pop. Even in 2010, moments here scrape the dust from your ears. (A second disc offers numerous radio sessions and demos.) It just so happens that it’s the least brilliant of the hallowed Dexys triptych, yet Too-Rye-Ay and Don’t Stand Me Down reached giddying zeniths.
Rife with "you-talkin’-to-me?" attitude, its chart hits were staccato stomp Geno and the (superior) There, There My Dear, in which Rowland rants at an "anti-fashion" phoney who affects to like Sinatra. (Like many Rowland-isms, this was misunderstood – he loves Sinatra.) Burn It Down (nee Dance Stance) opens with a radio playing snippets of dinosaur rock, punk and even The Specials before it’s flicked off and the horn trio urge you to "welcome the new soul vision". Rowland is in his element railing against perceived sleights: his causes include the Irish, literature and a hunger for R-E-S-P-E-C-T. While the octet’s instrumentals and covers are sharp, the slower, introspective, narcissistic numbers are the bigger clue that here was a major voice. In I’m Just Looking and I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried, Rowland becomes a white existential Otis, chiefly by sheer willpower and self-belief.
Doubt was to disturb him, as it does all great artists. This though was the sound of a soul released from a straitjacket. While his then Two Tone rivals will always read as prose, this still blazes as poetry.
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