Forget the Beach Boys, the comeback of the year is this one. Twenty-seven years after their three masterpieces got them a spot on the Olympus of pop music, Dexys return to announce they're taking off again. According to Kevin Rowland, the present trend is the only possible opportunity to deliver “One Day I’m Going To Soar”: he says they couldn't have released it ten years ago, or five, only now. Yours truly wants to believe him, among other things because conviction has always been one of his strong points, but before listening to the album, I couldn't help but wonder if the comeback would be through the big doors or if we would stumble upon another aberration in the vein of “Concrete and Clay”?
At first sight, there doesn't seem to be much reason for worry. The most conservative publications have been the first to review the record, and they thought the world of it, even though that was to be expected: this is not a record for hipsters. The album art is sophisticated and elegant in beige and black. A quick look at the tracklist shows a generous amount of songs, with monosyllabic and clear titles ( “You”, “Me”, “Now”, “Free”), and the crew they made it with is top notch. Old friends like trombonist Jim Paterson and Mick ‘Style Council’ Talbot, and new ones such as miss Madeleine Hyland, recruited to design the spine of the album and who, on tracks like “I’m Always Going To Love You”, succumbs to the actress in her against Rowland's theatrical, yet always spontaneous voice.
Both the expectations and the first clues suggest a continuation of the marvellous “Don’t Stand Me Down”, and, indeed, as with that initially underrated and afterwards magnified album, everything seems to be in the right place for “One Day I’m Going To Soar” to unfold with elegance, perfectionism (mind you, it was mainly recorded live) and that characteristic languidness Rowlands has been trying for years to show that there's so much more to his band than “Come On Eileen” with. Although the aesthetic impact isn't as frontal as on that absolutely free album, the band's highly anticipated fourth full-length still uses it as another element of their classic soul appearance. An sbolute triumph for the genre in 2012, including a nod to the Marvin Gaye of “If I Should Die Onight”, on “It’s OK, John Joe”, and a victory as well for the soul of its maker.
With its airs of cabaret and music-hall, “One Day I’m Going To Soar” sounds totally different from most of the music we hear around us. It sounds both like a record to be sung and like a musical to be performed. For instance, the central part, from “She Got A Wiggle” to “Incapable Of Love”, is formed by a five-part suite telling the story of a romance of a couple that isn't meant to be. The narration is part of a bigger picture that gives the record a distinct existential appeal, like a big ballroom dance where the dancers are the questions tormenting a confused man trying to survive the now (it's no coincidence “Now” is the opening track), who doesn't know where he belongs (the subject matter on “Lost”, on which he draws on childhood memories), and who's carrying around his unfulfilled illusions like a heavy weight. A man who's unafraid to express his emotional instability (“Me” is only subtle in its instrumentation: “There's something wrong with me/ people don’t respect me/ don’t seem to like me, no/ they want to hurt me so”), and who, indeed, feels confused about life, because he's confused about love. “I still believe in love / I just don’t know what it is”, he concludes, not without a certain sense of humour, almost at the end of the album.
The narrative substratum, which is as wrinkled as anyone can or wants to see, works on two levels, if you want to extrapolate it to the present state of the band. I'm talking about interpreting it as a metaphor for a band out of their time, rejuvenated, wanting to stay young without rejecting the wisdom that comes with the years, already revivalist in their younger days and still able to deliver an album like they don't make them anymore. They got rid of the ‘Midnight Runners’ bit, because they are, according to their leader, still the same as ever, only different, which is why they should be judged according to different standards. All in all, the album doesn't need extra time to convince you. Its one hour of duration just flies by.