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Dexy's Midnight Runners - Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, 30th Anniversary Edition

Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, 30th Anniversary Edition

(EMI UK, import)

It’s a shame that in America, Dexy’s Midnight Runners will now and forever be remembered as a one-hit wonder for “Come On Eileen.” Bandleader Kevin Rowland and his Birmingham, England-based collective were in their “Celtic Soul Brothers” phase—rife with vigorous fiddles and overalls—when the infectious “Eileen” hit. Bolstered by a video clip that is now almost emblematic of the early MTV experience, “Come On Eileen” was the biggest single of 1982 and Dexy’s were considered an overnight sensation. In fact, Rowland started the band four years prior and they issued their first album in 1980. And for as different as “Come On Eileen” and the album it came from (Too-Rye-Ay) sounded upon release, that debut, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, was even more jarringly original and refreshing. It is the brilliance of Young Soul Rebels that ultimately makes the marginalization of Dexy’s legacy so criminal.

Luckily, with the album’s 30th anniversary expanded reissue, now is the chance to take a second look. At the same time that the Jam were inflecting rave-up R&B and Motown with punk power, and the Clash powered their sloganeering with a palette that included reggae, early hip-hop, and anything that struck them, Dexy’s Midnight Runners were crafting their own abstracted English hybrid that imbued Northern Soul, ska, and funky blues with punk urgency and bristling passion. Rowland’s inimitable style—an acrobatic vocal that goes back and forth between croon and yelp—and and deft lyrics are front and center among the throbbing rhythms and tight horn section. Peel away the angry young man exterior of this record and all of its anger over class and society (“Burn It Down”), and it’s easy to feel Rowland’s enthusiasm and joy. Case in point, “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green” gets its message across with bubbling, infectious soul. Likewise, “Geno”—celebrating revered Northern Soul singer Geno Washington—is pure, wired-up, funky homage. “There, There My Dear” is a bitter missive to someone named Robin that really aims at all poseurs and pretenders—what we call hipsters today—ending the album on a buoyant strut that begs nonbelievers to “welcome a new soul vision.”

Among the plentiful extras on the reissue bonus disc are the long unavailable original singles, the John Peel recordings, and other sessions that include energized versions of the album’s tracks along with some unforgettable covers like a breathtakingly fast-paced take on Cliff Nobles and Co.’s “The Horse,” a slightly off-kilter but straight-ahead read of the Bar-Kays’ “Soulfinger,” and an organ-fuelled, orgiastic version of Johnny Johnson and Bandwagon’s “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache.”

Of course, this reissue of an underappreciated masterpiece is never going to put a dent in the masses who will continue to beg the wedding DJ to play “Eileen.” Still, there are enough soul rebels oth there, young and old, who will be found. They will continue to tell the story of the little bit of magic Rowland and company caught with this one.

donny kutzbach

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