In a year of rock comebacks -- the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Stone Roses, Blur -- none are as dramatic as Dexys.
The U.K. band, best known for its 1982 transatlantic chart-topping hit “Come on Eileen,” has reformed after 27 years with the best album of its career, “One Day I’m Going to Soar.”
“I’d had a particularly difficult day,” singer Kevin Rowland explains the title in a video interview. “I woke up in the middle of the night and I literally thought, ‘one day I am really going to soar.’ Metaphorically speaking -- to do great things, create what I know to be art, that’s what I always wanted to do. I wasn’t always able to do that, but doing that again now is great.”
The record lives up to its name and will end up on a lot of critics’ “Best of 2012” lists, including mine. Dexys are on tour to promote it, with Australian dates following the U.K.
Back in the 1970s, Rowland was a petty criminal advertising for musicians for his “new wave soul” act. One reply was from a trombone player working in a porridge oats factory in Scotland. That was ‘Big’ Jim Paterson, who was blown away by the sound of songs like “Geno,” which shot to No. 1 in 1980.
“The only ambition I had musically was to be on ‘Top of the Pops,’” Paterson says. “Hey presto, there I was.” Rowland nods. “Seems like it was someone else, it was so long ago.”
The band’s poppy album “Too-Rye-Ay” in 1982 was followed by “Don’t Stand Me Down,” which I gave a glowing review to in the long-defunct magazine Soundcheck in 1985. I was disappointed to see the LP bomb. It’s still wonderfully downbeat.
Rowland, then 32, sank into depression, drink, cocaine and money problems. He was squatting and tried a couple of solo albums, including the much-maligned “My Beauty,” with its cross-dressing cover. He was bottled off the stage in 1999 and fared little better with abortive attempts to reform Dexys. While he had the songs, nobody seemed interested.
“We demoed them and I expected people to say, ‘these are amazing,’ because they did sound great to me,” says Rowland, now 59. “It was only when we started doing them with musicians, and we thought ‘Blimey, this is really good.’”
Paterson, who hadn’t played for 16 years, was surprised to hear of the comeback. His trombone was in the attic of his house where a family of pigeons had moved in.
“It was a shame to disturb them,” he says. “I almost broke my neck taking it out of the loft! It was worth the effort.”
Both Paterson and Rowland say “the stars were aligned” as they came to record.
Rowland realized that the songs worked well assembled into a sequence of wanting (“She’s Got a Wiggle,”) wooing (“I’m Thinking of You”), winning (“I’m Always Going to Love You”) walking away (“Incapable of Love”) and enjoying no commitments (“Free”). It sounds autobiographical, but he won’t say more.
Madeleine Hyland’s duets are highlights. It took more than five years to find her, Rowland says. “It started to feel a bit like the search for Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone With the Wind.’” They met only six weeks before the album was recorded as Mick Talbot helped polish the music.
“I couldn’t do it on my own,” says Rowland, stressing the help from his friends. “If I did it wouldn’t be anything like as good as this. It’s my vision and everybody works toward that.”
“We are just doing our own thing,” he says. Don’t follow anyone, be your own movement. “Once you label something, you kill it. If you put it in a box, it’s hard to get out of it.”
The band has adopted a different “look” for each record, sometimes described as navvies/ dockers, gypsy farmhands and preppy yuppies. What about this time?
“People say our clothes are 1930s, 1940s or Italian gangster,” Rowland says. “They are retro inspired, rather than retro. We’re just taking from anywhere, some contemporary. We just mix it all up.”
Paterson says, “To me Kevin is the boss, but he doesn’t see it that way. We have a special bond I suppose, the Celtic Soul Brothers.” The big Scot is sure he’d prefer a few great CDs to many mediocre albums. “Four great ones, that’s quite a lot.”
Rowland agrees. “I am glad now that there was this long gap, because there’s no way we would have made an album like this if we’d have been knocking them out. It’s almost like the payoff for all those years.”
“One Day I’m Going to Soar” is on BMG Records priced $14. Download fees vary across services. For a review of the album, click here. For more information: http://dexys.info.
Dates of the Australian tour are listed on http://www.bandsintown.com/DexysAndDexysMidnightRunners
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
Today’s Muse highlights include Martin Gayford on art, Ryan Sutton on New York dining and Hephzibah Anderson on books.