Dexys Midnight Runners
Projected Passion Revue
t’s been 25 years since Dexys Mk II rose from the slightly controversial ashes of Dexys Mk I, reinvented themselves as Irish gypsies, and unexpectedly ascended to One Hit Wonder status (or Several Hit Wonder if you’re not American). As is standard practice these days, an anniversary reissue of its parent album Too Rye Aye is forthcoming later in the year, but preceding it is a perhaps more intriguing prospect: a full documentation of everything the band’s fledgling new line-up recorded in 1981.
This was before vocalist, chief Runner, and alleged megalomaniacal tyrant Kevin Rowland’s fateful introduction of the Emerald Express violinists, so what you get here is a year in the life of the apparently near-mythical Dexys Mk 1.5, featuring singles, B-sides, some live sessions, and more versions of “Liars A to E” than any normal human could possibly need.
A full concert recorded for the BBC is the centerpiece—the liner notes claim it’s included “as is,” so as to make you want to kill yourself for not having been at such a momentous event. It also means it’s a bit rough around the edges—the odd backing vocal disappears, and the bass on “Til I Believe in My Soul” is pretty out of tune, bah gawd—but the absolutely relentless pace of the show more than compensates. Seriously, they scarcely stop to take a breath; early on, after “Soon” has inevitably become “Plan B,” they follow in one long passage with “Burn it Down” and a cover of “Respect” that gets by more on insane, glassy-eyed vigor than technique.
Of course, the aforementioned segue from “Soon” to “Plan B” is one of the most glorious, hairs-on-neck moments in musical history; the mournful asceticism of the former resolves on a long organ note, only for that vaguely ominous Rowland cry of “you’ve always been searchin’ for…SOMETHING” to usher in the immense wall of brass, after which it somehow continues to escalate. It is astonishing.
Dexys talent for the deployment of brass to maximum effect is in evidence elsewhere; “Til I Believe in My Soul” is music to rock obsessively back and forth to while thinking too much at 4am, until the mournful riff from the intro is reborn as a gigantic, heart-swelling affirmation, while Rowland steps aside and allows the triumphant, wordless chorus of “Let’s Make This Precious” to do his talking for him. Throughout the collection, it’s striking just how meticulously, perfectly constructed these songs are, whether Stax-obsessed early material, ambitious covers (Edwin Starr), or embryonic future Too Rye Aye stalwarts not yet beholden to fiddling and dungarees.
Regardless of your reservations regarding Rowland’s messianic, tortured persona, his controversial dealings with his hapless minions, or even his curious yelped vocal style, this disc underlines at near-punishing length that the ’81 Dexys were a tight, exhilarating pop group, and Rowland at the very least an adept master of ceremonies; throughout, he ushers in various grandiose passages with semi-gibbered but perfectly timed cries of “TRY THIS…LIKE THIS:” He’s like a benevolent but slightly unhinged doctor prescribing brass, and lots of it—that’s his answer to (almost) everything, and God bless him for it.