PM Pick

Dexy's Midnight Runners, Don't Stand Me Down (1985)

His lone American hit "Come on Eileen" made chief Dexy Kevin Rowland seem a one-note, barefoot-ragamuffin cliché. But his most brilliant work would come after he ditched the rags and the better portion of his fans.

Dexy's Midnight Runners

Don't Stand Me Down

US Release Date: 1985
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Fuck off Eileen, everything you know is wrong. Dexy's Midnight Runners were no one-hit wonders, and their final album, the commercial failure Don't Stand Me Down, is actually their best.

Kevin Rowland formed Dexy's in Birmingham, England, in 1978. Their debut single "Dance Stance" (1979), was both a heartfelt protest against anti-Irish discrimination and a boast about the achievements of Irish writers such as Wilde, Behan and Shaw. It revealed a man burning with a passionate sense of mission. The band's debut album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (1980), begins with a Pink Floyd device. A radio is being tuned; static yields first to the Sex Pistols, then to the Specials, and then Kevin Rowland's voice cutting in, sneering, inciting, invoking his band: "For God's sake, burn it down". What follows is an incendiary blur of Northern Soul, punk attitude and an unwavering pop sensibility that climaxes with the conclusion (in "There, There My Dear") that "the only way to change things is to shoot men who arrange things". At the end of the punk blaze, at the beginning of a new decade, Rowland lit a fresh fire, offered a new soul vision.

The follow-up, Too-Rye-Ay (1982), was recorded with a dramatically different lineup. The new sound incorporated the fiddles of the Emerald Express, and the Mean Streets soul posse had become the raggle-taggle gypsy soul brothers (and sister). The album yielded four hit singles, including the worldwide smash "Come On Eileen". And then the ride began again. The cycle was clear: Rowland would build something up, something great. And then he would destroy it. Forcing people out of his band, changing direction, changing sound at will, always searching for his grail. Many in the Western World considered Too-Rye-Ay a landmark album, a classic. To Rowland, "it was rubbish. It wasn't leading anywhere. I could make money, so what? I have to have self respect."

Don't Stand Me Down (1985) was the third and last Dexy's album. Released to mixed reviews, it sank almost without trace. Perhaps the latest Dexy's rebrand -- poker stares and clean-cut business suits -- went a step too far? Perhaps the refusal to release a single or to market the album was just a little too arrogant? Perhaps Don't Stand Me Down was just a little too difficult for an audience raised on "Come On Eileen"? Probably, all of the above.

The album opens with "The Occasional Flicker". After a prolonged pause of barely audible background noise, then: "No, I don't want sympathy ... compromise is the devil talking ... I was right the first time." Vincent Crane (of Atomic Rooster fame) lays down a boogie-woogie piano. Big-beat drums pound. Horns do their thing. And then the world changes. Rowland slips from a confession that yes, he is a bitter man trying to redeem himself, into a sudden, shocking spoken comment: "It kind of reminds me of that burning feeling I used to get".

Spoken-word pieces had always formed part of the Dexy's canon, but this abrupt change mid-song is utterly new, as is the downright comic treatment given to his "burning feeling", a self-mocking reference to his many famous prior protestations of "inner fires" and "burning". Rowland's voice comes from one speaker; guitarist Billy Adams speaks from the other. And while the band blazes on, the pair discuss ... Kevin Rowland's digestion. "Are you sure it's not heartburn?" This double act continues throughout Don't Stand Me Down. Twenty years on, I'm still not sure why it's there or what it all means. But I know I love it. Every last mumbled remark and bad joke.

"This Is What She's Like" is the pinnacle of Kevin Rowland's achievement, his Ninth Symphony, his "Ode to Joy". Twelve and a half minutes long, it soars with a breath-taking beauty. The most immaculate parts of "Come On Eileen" on their very best day couldn't get into "This Is What She's Like". The song is that good. And yet it begins with another mundane and poorly recorded conversation, a chat between two dullards that runs for almost 90 seconds before Rowland finally concedes and tries to tell Billy Adams what she's like. But Rowland has always had a problem describing things, so he starts by telling us all the things she isn't.

As the music peaks repeatedly, we learn that Rowland's muse is not the sort of girl to iron creases in her jeans or use expressions like tongue-in-cheek. And she has nothing in common with the ignorant English upper classes, the CND scum, or the newly wealthy peasants who put all their possessions on parade.

Kevin: The Italians have a word for it.

Billy: What word's that?

Kevin: A thunderbolt or something.

Billy: What, you mean the Italian word for thunderbolt?

Kevin: Yeah, something like that. I don't speak Italian myself, you understand.

Billy: No.

Kevin: But I knew a man who did.

It's as if Brian Wilson stopped "God Only Knows" halfway through to tell a shrink joke, and made it work. In the end, it's left to his wordless careening vocals and music to describes Kevin Rowland's beauty. She must have been glorious.

"Knowledge of Beauty" is an exploration of Irish pride that echoes all the way back to "Dance Stance". "One of Those Things" is Warren Zevon's "Werewolves Of London" in drag, a complaint-rock classic in two parts. The first dissects music radio and concludes that it all sounds the same. The second analyses the dinner-party socialist intellectuals of the world and their attitudes towards Northern Ireland, concluding that they all sound the same too. The conclusion is clear: Political attitudes towards Ireland were as trite and empty as the pop music of the day.

"Reminisce Part Two" is a short spoken-word piece underpinned by a melancholic tune that slowly evolves into both "Lola" and Jimmy Ruffin's "I'll Say Forever My Love". Surging horns, a pounding beat and declamatory vocals make "Listen To This" a throwback to the early Dexy's singles. It's a rousing pop song, and yet it doesn't quite fit here because Rowland has moved so far beyond merely rousing pop.

Throughout his career, Kevin Rowland has been a minefield of magnificent contradictions. As soon as you thought you understood him, he changed. And no sooner had you caught up with him again, then he disappeared and dared you to find him. But through it all, beneath the anger and the controversies, beyond his Irish identity, he was inspired by a desire to create beautiful things. The extreme passion in his work came from this vision of the beauty he was trying to express. On Don't Stand Me Down, Kevin Rowland came closest to giving his impossible dream form, a funny, flawed work of absolute protest against the mundane and the average.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Film

In 'Downsizing' Shrinking Means Big Money and Bigger Problems

Matt Damon and Jason Sudeikis in Downsizing (2017) (Photo by Photo credit: Paramount Pictures - © 2017 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.) (IMDB)

Being the size of a dog's chew toy might not be to everybody's taste, but it's certainly a shortcut to a kind of upper middle-class luxury unobtainable for most of humanity.

Just imagine you're a character in Alexander Payne's circuitous and occasionally perceptive new comedy Downsizing: You were pre-med, but you dropped out of school to take care of your mother. Now you're an occupational therapist at Omaha Steaks. You and your wife are treading water both economically and in your relationship. But still, you face every day with just enough gee-whiz optimism that life never quite turns into a grind. But then, something happens. Some Swedish researchers figured out a way to shrink the average human down to a mere five inches tall without any adverse side effects. There are risks to avoid, like not leaving metal fillings in during the shrinking process (exploding heads, you know).

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image