Thursday, 3 September 2009

That something rare

The 1990’s were not a particularly happy time for Kevin Rowland. His extremely successful band Dexy’s Midnight Runners had split up acrimoniously in 1988, and his first solo album had been a flop. Without a record contract for the first time since 1976, and with all his personal bridges effectively burned, he slipped into a long depression, made worse by mounting debt and drug dependency.

In 1999, Alan McGee threw Rowland a lifeline by signing him to Creation Records. The deal was for one solo album, then a follow up from the reformed Dexy’s Midnight Runners. McGee was awash with Oasis money at the time and could afford to be generous, but behind the largesse but there was also some business logic: Rowland had sold millions of records in his career, perhaps he could do it again.

He couldn’t. The resulting album ‘My Beauty’ was an abject failure, a disaster. Consisting of cover versions of familiar songs like ‘The Greatest Love Of All’ and ‘Daydream Believer’ the LP was an odd mix of karaoke and motivational speaking, with prosaic musical settings contrasted with Rowland’s plaintive vocals and liberal interpretation of lyrics. Many of the songs feature what sound like pep talks, internal monologues externalised and pressed to vinyl. Rowlands was always faintly embarrassing in his intensity but here the effect is even more unsettling, like finding yourself eavesdropping on a therapy session or a self-help group. The icing on this very odd cake was the cover: Rowland in full make up and a pearl necklace, wearing a blue velvet dress hoiked up to reveal suspenders and his tight black drawers.

The record sold less than 500 copies and Rowlands was bottled off stage during his appearance at that year’s Reading festival; the Creation contract was cancelled and Rowlands has not made an album since.

I have a lot of time for the flawed work, the noble failure, but ‘My Beauty’ goes beyond that: it is fundamentally wrong, and desperately odd. I’ve grown very fond of it over the years, and even find parts of it quite moving, but then perhaps that’s indicative of my own fundamental wrong-ness.

To illustrate how unusual it gets, please find below the promotional video for the single from the album, a cover of the 1965 Unit 4 + 2 hit ‘Concrete & Clay’. Everything about it raises a question, but the three overarching concerns are ‘what are you thinking?’, ‘what are you wearing?’ and, most importantly, 'what are you wearing?'


nlgbbbblth said...

I think it's a great LP, enjoyed your thoughts on it.

Anonymous said...


Another question that it raises, which you touched upon, is 'why are we watching it?' Having done so I wish that I hadn't. And looking back at your comments, I can see that I should have realised when I first read them that I would feel this way.

Have you thought about dropping the link?