Monday, July 31, 2023

'The Feminine Divine' - Unleashed by Kevin Rowland

From the early days of Dexys Midnight Runners, Kevin Rowland has had a singular vision of how music should be presented. Inspired by The Specials’ smart stage attire, Rowland created an image for the band and executed it with ruthless attention to detail. 

Whilst that image has changed over the years, even from album to album, it has always consistently formed the context to Rowland’s story-telling. Reinvention isn’t new to Dexys fans, in fact, it’s part of the appeal.

In recent years, Rowland has undergone something of a personal transformation, surviving a period of mental health troubles and learning to eschew the expectations of others, culminating in the powerful 1999 act of self expression titled ‘My Beauty’ together with a cover image which some have found shocking, others liberating. In essence, Rowland has learned to embrace his feminine energy and use it as part of his creative process.

Dexys’ brand new release, ‘The Feminine Divine’, continues to play on this theme with a curious mix of soul-searching, soul-baring and plain good old fashioned soul-pop-folk music which bounces and soars its way back to the Northern soul roots of the band. The overall message of this album, it seems, is Rowland’s homecoming, not to any geographic place, but to his own sense of identity.

Opening with an absolutely typical Dexys brass fanfare, the first track ‘The One That Loves You’ launches into a narrative which seems at odds with the overall message of the collection. “I’m a man and I love you / I’m your man and I’ll die to defend you / Baby don’t you know /I’m the one that loves you / I will do anything for you, my love”. It seems strangely macho and oppressive in comparison to the concept of self-discovery and acceptance. “I’m not denying, baby, you’re a very strong woman / but you need my love darling / ‘cos there’ll be times when you’re just not sure / a man comes up to you / he says how do you do / but you can tell from that look in his eye that he’s not just a friendly kind”. Perhaps it’s a parody of how Rowland used to express his masculinity, all part of the cathartic journey that he is leading the listener through.

The next track, ‘It’s alright Kevin’ (Manhood 2023)’ serves two purposes, firstly to resurrect the 2003 original release of ‘Manhood’ and secondly to confirm that everything Rowland said in the opening track was an illusion. “I tried so hard to live a lie / pretending I was some tough guy / but now I’ve had enough / I can’t live that way no more”. It’s a message that gets repeated by Rowland – often – and which is as important today for the younger generations discovering their ‘truth’ as it is for the first generation of Dexys fans who are now in the middling years, sporting grey hair, wrinkles and the scars of a life lived in avoidance or denial.

Coming Home’ sends Rowland’s message most clearly, set against a cheery disco backdrop; “I tried to be what I ought to be and I also tried domesticity / Tortured by what I tried to be, I’ve got no place left to roam / coming home”.

The title track tells a slightly more angst-laden version of the story, expanding on the cultural backdrop to Rowland’s identity crisis; “I was brought up to believe all of this bullshit / Women were repressed, everyone was a mess / Men didn’t know what the fuck to do / So we controlled and we bullied and we blamed it all on you”.

My submission’ channels a spiritual aspect, with echoes of ‘Ave Maria’ whilst ‘Dance With Me’ concludes the show with a slow, sultry, pleading soul-funk love letter to an icon of femininity.

Throughout the album, it would be easy to ignore the backing singers as mere fill for the melody but in fact Rowland gives them a very specific part to play, with lyrics such as “Were you always feeling edgy / afraid the mask would slip and they’d see?”, “It’s alright Kevin”’ or “I hope you can make it”. The two part lyrics form a conversation between Rowland and a background entity, part counsellor, part nurturing mother, part supportive lover. Perhaps the background voices are the embodiment of what Rowland is worshipping, the feminine divine, the energy which makes a man whole.

It’s the perfect listen for anyone who is struggling under the weight of an insincere self-image as well as being a jolly well crafted set of musical snapshots of Rowland’s life story. Having said that, Dexys’ music has pretty much always been Rowland’s life story, from the obvious ‘My Life in England’ to the more oblique set of personally relevant cover versions of ‘My Beauty’. Perhaps, through Rowland’s stories of unbelonging, emotional journeying and self discovery, the listener might find their own beauty and balance.

Peter Freeth



Image: Peter Freeth

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment Here;