“If these words sound corny, switch it off, I don’t care….”
I’ll Show You - Dexys Midnight Runners (1982).
...It’s a line that I keep returning to whenever listening to ‘My Beauty’. Being so damn headstrong and dismissive about how you're perceived may have worked splendidly for Dexys Midnight Runners in the early 1980s, but set against the bombast and cynicism of 1999, our Kevin was not going to be so easily revered. Emerging from a lengthy hiatus with a collection of earnest and string laden cover versions (including ‘This Guy’s in Love With You’ , ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘The Greatest Love of All’), all seemed way too sentimental. Some may have even deemed it ‘corny.’
Before having the chance to ‘switch it off’ though, there was concern from anyone who stared critically and quizzically into Kevin’s doleful eyes, glanced at the troubled memoir-like title of the record, and figured that this was a public mid-life crisis from a recovering addict. 'Sing When You’re Winning’ this was not.
Furthermore, there may just have been some mention of Kevin’s choice of attire on the sleeve as well.
A record that opens with the brave reassertion of self-worth of ‘The Greatest Love of All’ and closes with the sincere salvation of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is less a cry for help and more of a survivor’s manual. These are songs as reliable friends. The conversational asides in Rag Doll (‘it’s over…bad stuff’s over’) offers comfort, it’s only the harrowing rewrite of Squeeze’s ‘Labelled with Love’ (‘…she opens the top of her new cocaine packet’) that harks back to the previous torment. Best to move on towards the breezy take of ‘Concrete and Clay’ or the smiling defiance of ‘It’s Getting Better.’
A wrong has also been corrected with this edition as the previously excluded interpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ has been reinstated. It's inclusion completing the flow of the narrative. Furthermore, those questionable original Boss lyrics (‘…you ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright’), have been revised and thankfully (and this is solely from a local person’s perspective, he’s no longer pulling out of ‘… a town full of losers.’
As with that other once misunderstood Dexys offering ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’ there is a relief that ‘My Beauty’ exists again in someplace other than the memories of the few. As with the (admittedly slender), remainder of Rowland's output, it may be the work of a stubborn man but its genius is in its honesty. And if his words still sound corny, switch it off, he won't care.
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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