Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review of Dexys Midnight Runners' "Too-Rye-Ay"

I posted this review earlier this morning on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: This album is a mostly-forgotten classic that blends Celtic rhythms and lyrics with tasty soul and R&B sounds.

When most people bother to think of Dexys Midnight Runners at all, it's usually as one of those one-hit-wonder '80s bands. There's more to it than that, though. The truth is that in a musical era known more for its singles than its LPs, Dexys' Too-Rye-Ay is actually one of the stronger albums of that decade, as well as one of the more atypical ones. An English band that mixed Celtic phrases and rhythms with soul and R&B influences, Dexys Midnight Runners eschewed the synth-pop style so fashionable in the '80s. In the process, they not only scored a huge international hit single with "Come on Eileen", they also created a unique and powerful LP.

Following their moderately successful debut album, 1980's Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, co-founder Kevin "Al" Archer and several other band members quit the Dexys, leaving lead singer/multi-instrumentalist Kevin Rowland and trombonist Jim Patterson (who sometimes referred to themselves as the "Celtic Soul Brothers") to remake the band. The new band ended up at 11 members strong, and included a pair of violinists (the idea of which had been one of the key bones of contention that caused some of the previous band members to bolt). Dexys then left EMI for Mercury Records, and released the first single for their new label, "The Celtic Soul Brothers", which only got as high as #45 on the British charts. However, their second Mercury single, "Come on Eileen", propelled them to stardom.

It's hard to overstate just how big a hit "Eileen" was. A playful seduction song wherein the saucy protagonist tries to convince the object of his affection to come back to his place and "take off everything", the song reached #1 in the charts in the UK, and the U.S., as well as in Ireland, Canada and a number of other countries. With its pronounced Celtic fiddling and a chorus that included the lyrics "Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, aye" (which hearkened back to a 1913 Irish-American song later made popular by Bing Crosby in the film Going My Way), "Eileen" was something of a novelty number that became even more popular thanks to having its video placed in constant rotation on MTV. It became a mega-hit, and deservedly so. Even now, 35 years later, it's instantly recognizable to most music fans, and in fact it's currently being featured prominently in a commercial for the new season of the American television series Preacher.

What most music fans probably don't know, though, is how substantial the rest of the album is. The original release of Too-Rye-Ay featured ten songs total (including "Eileen" and "Celtic Soul Brothers"), and although subsequent versions of the LP have included a variety of bonus tracks, those original 10 songs were more than enough to create an exceptional album. There are high-energy numbers ("Celtic Soul Brothers", "Let's Make This Precious", and "Plan B") and slower numbers ("Old" and "All and All (This One Last Wild Waltz)"). There's even a cover of the Van Morrison classic "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)". The music includes some smoking hot brass pieces and some poignant string and piano sections. Rowland's voice is a little wild and high-pitched, and it does have a somewhat whiny quality to it. He's supported by a trio of backup singers who tend to ground him a little, though, and to his credit, he's got a certain charisma -- he knows how to use what he has effectively. His vocal sound won't satisfy everyone, but it works well with this material. Also, the band is so tight and proficient that it gives him room to be a little looser.

In its own time, Too-Rye-Ay was a fairly successful album, reaching #2 and eventually going Platinum in the UK, as well as hitting #14 in the U.S. Nowadays, with the exception of "Come on Eileen", it's a mostly forgotten classic. This is lamentable. As unfashionable as its blend of blue-eyed soul and Irish phrases and melodies might be these days (much as they were in the '80s when the album was first released), there's an integrity to the music that deserves to be heard. If you listen carefully, you can even hear Kevin Rowland himself inviting you: "Won't you join me in this one last wild waltz?"

Rating: 4/5 stars