Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Dexy's Midnight Runners - Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)
Released July 1980
Recorded in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
Kevin Rowland’s Dexy’s Midnight Runners first incarnation were an odd creation - a nine strong band dressed like travelling construction workers, in donkeys jackets and wooly hats, carrying Adidas sports bags for some never-known reason. They emerged at the turn of the decade between the seventies and the eighties and combined punk’s vigour, vitality and youthful anger with a love for Motown, Atlantic, Stax and Northern Soul. Their sound was big, punchy and horn-driven. The band were often lumped in with the “ska”/two tone” revival but they were not really part of that. They were unique, to be honest. They were a brass-based soul/rock band.
The album opens with some background snatches of crackly radio, playing Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” then The Sex Pistols’ “Holidays In The Sun”, then the horns kick in, massively and we are into “Burn It Down” (originally titled “Dance Stance”). It is catchy and pumping with effervescence. The West Midlands/Irish Rowland namechecks various Irish authors at several parts in the song. The horns are simply superb throughout. The vibrant vibe continues with the Northern Soul-ish “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green”. The horns on this one have a slight feel of The Specials, hence the link to the ska thing, I guess. Rowland’s voice was always strange - wobbly, vibrating, often incomprehensible. A sort of soulful Joe Strummer. The horn/drum passage near the end is exhilarating. For some reason, the band were often derided as pretentious and “up themselves”. Maybe this was due to Rowland’s often Van Morrison-esque irascibility and the group’s seemingly contrived image. This was a shame because this is pure, potent and powerful music. The Style Council suffered in the same way.
“The Teams That Meet In Caffs” was a pounding organ and brass instrumental. It also sounds like a Northern Soul classic. “I’m Just Looking” is a slow paced ballad that tends to highlight the inherent weaknesses in Rowland’s voice that often get hidden on the livelier, more bombastic tracks. The brass is still outstanding on this track, however. The big, monster hit, “Geno” is up next. Now an iconic track, it was a tribute to the not-too-well-known sixties soul singer Geno Washington. As most people know, it had an absolutely killer brass riff. “Seven Days Too Long” is an energetic cover of the Northern Soul classic, Chuck Woods’ “Seven Days Too Long”. Although it is a credible, brassy version, I prefer the original. Again, Rowland’s voice has limitations on this song. However, anything that brought Northern Soul to the attention to the mainstream was fine by me.
“I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried” has Rowland sounding almost like Steve Harley at times in this once more slow paced ballad. Again, the instrumentation outshines the vocal. Rowland also attempts to go all Van Morrison in his r’n’b repetition vocal half way through. Van did it much better, I’m afraid, Kevin. “Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply” is an almost sixties-sounding mod thrash with a positively awful vocal from Rowland. It is more of a high-pitched squeal at times. Not dissimilar to Russell Mael of Sparks at his worst. “Keep It” is another track the sees the tempo fall, to its detriment. Dexy’s really were at their best when they were firing on all cylinders and upbeat. This track does have a great horn ending, however. “Love Part One” is one minute of pretentious spoken guff over a plaintive saxophone. A waste of a minute, to be honest.
The quality returns, thankfully, for the final track - a slice of classic Dexy’s, “There There My Dear” with a massive bass line, energetic brass riffs and Rowland doing his best Chairmen Of The Board “brrrr” vocal. Half of this album was a wonderful, knockout breath of fresh air, the remainder not quite cutting the mustard, but, overall, listening to it every now and again is an enjoyable experience. The sound quality is excellent throughout on the latest remaster.