Monday, November 28, 2016

Review of Dexys' "Let the Record Show"

I posted this review earlier this morning on the Sputnik Music website.
Every year, I choose my new music in a variety of ways. Sometimes, I'll read something about a band I haven't previously listened to, and the description will interest me enough to buy the album. Sometimes I'll hear a song I like, and it will get me to check out the album. As often as not, I'll just see that a new album has come out by an artist I've previously enjoyed, and I'll be inspired to pick it up. It's kind of like checking in on an old friend. It usually works for me.

So when I saw that Dexy's Midnight Runners (now calling themselves simply "Dexys") had a new album out, I thought "Great!". Even though I hadn't heard the band since the '80s, I thought it was a reasonable bet. I loved their 1982 Too-Rye-Ay LP. It was a solid album of Celtic-influenced rock and soul. Yes, it had the song "Come on Eileen", which had gone #1 in both the U.S. and U.K. (the video for the song was being played almost every 10 minutes on MTV), but it also had so much more than that. It had a first-rate cover of Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said". It had some great Celtic violin. And even if Kevin Rowland's voice was a bit of an acquired taste, in context, it worked. It was a damned fine album. Hell, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on this site. Even their previous album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, was decent. I don't know how or why I lost track of the Dexys after Too-Rye-Ay, but I figured 2016 was as good a time as any to get reacquainted.

In retrospect, the cover art for the new album should have been a warning sign. The photo shows an old codger wearing what almost looks like a riding outfit, with his pants hiked up nearly to his armpits, flanked by a woman dressed like a gangster's gun moll and another old dude less than stylishly dressed. Weird that these guys look so much older these days, because I look exactly the same as I used to (cough, cough), but whatever. The title was a mouthful: Let the Record Show: Dexy's Do Irish and Country Soul. Not a great title, to my mind, but God knows you can't judge the quality of the album by its moniker. The song selection made me raise my eyebrow a little, but we'll get to that.

It was Thanksgiving Day, and we had plenty of time before we had to get ready to go out, so I plugged my ipod into my speakers and hit "play". The first song was a mostly instrumental version of "Women of Ireland", a song played to great effect throughout the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon. Not bad, kind of pretty actually. The next song was a cover of the old Bee Gees song "To Love Somebody", and this one made me squirm a little. Not very Celtic. Not very country or blues, for that matter. And what the hell happened to Kevin Rowland's voice? It was way deeper, and older sounding, than I remembered. Still, "It's only one song," I thought. Then, it all went horribly wrong.

The third song was a cover of the old Jerome Kern song "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". I thought it was a strange choice when I saw the track listing, but sometimes you hear an artist do an interesting modern take on an old chestnut, right? Right?!!! ... Wrong. There was nothing modern or especially creative about the presentation, and it was about here that I noticed he was doing this weird thing with his vocals, singing every word in this strange, very distinct way, like Ian Anderson started to do a few years ago me when he had blown his voice out. It was also about here when I heard my wife asking from the kitchen "What the hell are you listening to?"

It got worse. Much worse. It turns out that somewhere along the way over the course of these last 30 years, Dexys changed from being this tight Celtic rock and soul band into a Las Vegas-style lounge act. Half of the songs are done with schtick, so that when the lyrics say something about pain, Rowland is in the background screaming "Ow! I've got this pain!", and when he turns the song over to his co-singer Sean Read, it's with these little cheesy comments in between, like "Tell the people!" and "Yes he does!" At one point, during their cover of the beautiful and poignant song "Carrickfergus," he even breaks into a mock sob. (At least I think he does. I can't swear 100% that it isn't a cough instead of a sob, which raises a whole different set of issues.)

By the fourth song, my whole family was howling in pain and berating me viciously. I'm used to the idea that my children will never admit it if they like something I'm listening to, but this was genuine. There was a sad, desperate quality to their comments: "Make it stop!", "Oh God it hurts!", things like that. I felt so bad for them, I almost turned it off. But it was like an aural train wreck -- I couldn't take my ears off of it.

In the end, this might actually give that godawful Corey Feldman album a run for its money for worst album of 2016. I'll never know for sure because the song he did on The Today Show was enough to scare me off listening to any more of that album. But at least Feldman seemed to sincerely be trying, which is more than I can say about most of the songs on Let the Record Show. "Women of Ireland" was pretty good, and "The Town I Loved So Well" isn't too bad -- at least Rowland is playing it straight with that one. Most of the rest of the album is unsalvageable, though. Sputnik lets you rate an album as low as 1 star. I gave this one an extra half star, partly for "Women of Ireland" and partly as a nod of respect to the memory of Too-Rye-Ay. As for my 4 recs, I've chosen albums that do Celtic rock the way it should be done instead of trying to name comparable disasters to this one.

It actually hurt me to write this review. Not as much as it hurt my family to listen to the album, but almost. I hate trashing a band that's given me pleasure in the past. But consider this to be like one those signs: "Warning! Land Mines!," and tread carefully with this one. You'll be sorry if you don't.

Rating: 1-1/2/5 stars