The yahoos that stocked the rafters came looking for chart-toppers and low-brow fashion. But once the ephemeral was handed-over, those support gigs for Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ second LP became mini-soul reeducation camps. Kevin Rowland stalked the stage, head down, yelping madly as he kicked the monitors in time to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. But it was his 15 minutes, and why not use sledgehammer tactics like that to make his point? Off the back of Too-Rye-Aye, he’d gotten his opportunity to piss all over pop America’s synth fetish and no one got out of those shows without a taste of the good news. Sure, most of those people left the venue and slapped in their Flock of Seagulls cassettes for the ride home anyway, but some of them grew up and eventually got around to buying the Commitments soundtrack. Some may have even figured out how Van Morrison had figured into all of this. But what did Kevin get?
As a candy-floss monument to soul, Too-Rye-Aye showcases Rowland as both keen gear-shifter and severe acolyte. By ditching the horn section that made him, he set himself up for a good twatting by the NME and countless believers unless he could produce another set of tunes as riveting as those on 1980’s Searching for the Young Soul Rebels. He never quite got there, and hoped that the fiddle players and banjos that he swapped in would be a suitable blind. Hiring in top-shelf production (Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley) were added insurance. But the quasi-folk, faux soul blend that Rowland hoped to woo old listeners with was a patchy solution at best. Despite its strong chorus, “The Celtic Soul Brothers” was a quick indicator that things weren’t quite cricket. Somewhere inside, you knew that the toughs that pumped their fists to “Geno” weren’t going to quit their waterfront barrooms for hoedowns and overalls as the strings seemed to suggest. But because Rowland still had trombonist Big Jim Patterson in his camp, salvation was as close as track two. “Let’s Make This Precious” was a slightly refined, but more than serviceable take on Dexy’s mach I—a standup moment that along with the resurrected “Plan B” were key to Rowland’s argument that he hadn’t completely lost the Northern Soul plot. His visitation on Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said” may not be worthy but “Liars A to E” put flesh, and perhaps too nice of a sharkskin suit on his revised thesis.
And then there’s the single. “Come on Eileen” and it’s 20-plus years of steady retro-rotation, have probably been harsher on Kevin than on any one of us who’ve nearly broken our wrists in the rush to keep it from playing on our radios. Impossibly catchy, it kept him in damagingly high-grade cocaine and artistic arrest for years. Originally it was the album’s big finish, but on this slimmed down package (the first re-release in ‘96 featured more bonus material . . .) it’s no longer Rowland’s punctuation mark, but a full-blown career millstone slotted in as track 10. Why “Show Me”, a pre-Eileen Dexy’s single, is included here doesn’t make too much sense, but pitted against some of the album’s weaker songs, it plays like as an uncomfortable reminder that the original band’s terse vision may have been too note-perfect a gig to follow.
// Notes from the Road
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