Their Northern Soul will always be defined by their heyday. One single enough to cement their legacy in parties and Benidorm boozers but the real tragedy is Dexys Midnight Runners, now Dexys, are better than that. Glaringly upbeat pop from the people that brought a considered, soul-fuelled album four decades ago is about right. Where else is there to go? Brief cuts of brass, saxophone slicing through ever so briefly in those opening moments, the build before figuring out whether Kevin Rowland has retained his voice. Amazingly and thankfully, he has, and while I’m Going to Get Free rattles off that vocal prowess, the lyrics are hammy and leave much to be desired.
He’s going to get free. What of is unclear but it makes for the sickly strings that come toward the centre of the song an implication of emotion as Rowland wanders down the streets in a dapper-looking suede onesie. Without much of a change in pitch or range for the whole track, a backup vocalist-reliant piece that oozes out optimism is up for grabs. Rowland has accepted the changes in his voice and works them over well. He is adamant about breaking free from the guilt and woes of the prior states of life, the gilded hands that previously guided him finally bored of their plaything. Dexys fail to balance the depressing realism with the upbeat, Pharrell Williams pop-chart emptiness of this track, but the meaning behind it is powerful.
All that matters is what the track can do for a listener, and the soul-fuelled additional vocals lose their charm on a second go-around, as do the string sections and light sprinklings of percussion. Dexys are a difficult band to dislike given the history that pours through this track. Pop soul sees Rowland work over lyrics that see him try and escape his reality, although how successful he can maintain his escapism will be seen on the upcoming album The Feminine Divine. To think they could have squandered this potential rise with a Primal Scream collaboration in support of rail strikes last year. Dexys have their pulse on what is relevant but have never quite figured out how to work it to their advantage, be it lyrically on Enough is Enough! or instrumentally with I’m Going to Get Free.
They are an act frustratingly close to hitting their apex and pushing through with a firm and necessary blend that explains to the passive fans or listeners where they have been and what they were up to. Dexys never hit on from their desire to make staggering soulful music and their pivot to that was a strange and depressing nail in the coffin for a band which deserved better at the time. Regressing from that feeling of change and accepting their place in pop culture is depressing, but I’m Going to Get Free will hopefully offer them a second wind to engage what gave them a beloved status. It probably will despite I’m Going to Get Free feeling relatively loose and empty. Still, they deserve a bit of a break, even if this genuine-yet-expectant uplifting piece is not their best.