Kevin Rowland was the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners
(sic), a peculiarly intense pop band from the early-to-mid 80s. After the commercial failure of their last LP, 'Don't Stand me Down
', Dexys ceased to exist, with the exception of the 1986
single 'Because of You', which was essentially Kevin Rowland solo. Rowland released a proper solo
LP in 1988, after which his activity level dropped below that of The Blue Nile
, i.e. he didn't do a great deal. Whereas it's not apparent quite what keeps The Blue Nile busy, Rowland was undergoing a personal drink'n'drugs hell.
He vanished from the media spotlight, only to return in late 1998. Bankrolled to the tune of a £40,000 advance by soon-to-be-defunct Creation Records, Kevin Rowland embarked on a comeback which was, if nothing else, interesting.
Under Rowland's supervision, Dexys Midnight Runners had undergone a drastic image change with each LP. First they were tracksuited brickies; then they were Romany folksters; and finally they donned business suits and frowns. For his personal comeback, Rowland chose to wear women's lingerie. Which is unusual in itself, although not particularly outlandish if approached in a campy, Rocky Horror Show-style.
In his typically intense fasion Rowland, however, appeared to actually mean it. He revealed in interviews that, after spending most of the 80s being an overbearing bully, he wanted to express his new-found gentle nature, and that his clothes were 'men's dresses'. His apparent sincerity made the media uneasy - on one level, it was deeply disturbing to watch a man in his mid-40s unselfconsciously wearing women's lingerie in the public eye; on another level, Rowland's sincerity made it hard for the media to laugh at him without seeming unsympathetic themselves. After all, if a man wants to dress up a woman, why not? So what if he doesn't look like Johnny Depp, not that Johnny Depp often dresses up as a woman (that I know of)?
Perhaps to assert his masculinity, Rowland's live performance at the 1999 Reading festival involved singing to backing tapes whilst gyrating with strippers - something practised by Dexys' contemporaries The Stranglers, although with more leer. Inevitably, this resulted in widespread media fascination at what appeared to be Rowland's public mental disintegration.
The LP that resulted - 'My Beauty' - was a bit of a disappointment, in that it was neither good enough to enjoy on a conventional level, nor weird enough to enjoy as a curiosity. Essentially, it was a set of Rowland's favourite standards, most of which had a positive message, performed in an easy-listening style, with Rowland singing over the top. Disturbingly, Rowland appeared to be singing the songs to himself - the refrain of 'Rag Doll' ('I love you just the way you are') and the frequent spoken interjections of 'It's alright' and 'The bad stuff's over' on each track suggested a man either extremely happy, or on the verge of suicide. Whilst most of the songs retained their original lyrics, Squeeze's 'Labelled with Love' was given an autobiographical rewrite, albeit from a feminine perspective ('She made up her mind to become a pop singer, she believed then that nobody would scorn her').
The opening track, 'The Greatest Love of All', was the most unusual. After a short spoken-word collage, the first verse was entirely spoken, after which Rowland sang the rest of the song in a warbly, over-the-top style that went out of tune on some of the louder notes.
The rest of the album, encompassing songs such as Unit 4 Plus 2's 'Concrete and Clay', The Monkees' 'Daydream Believer', and the Beatles' 'Long and Winding Road', was much more conventional, almost Radio 2-ish. Given the bizarre image, however, Rowland didn't receive a great deal of mainstream media attention at the time.
In the end, the complete media package - suspenders, dress held up to reveal velvet codpiece, exposed nipples, sideburns, easy-listening music - was almost impossibly odd, and critical reaction at the time was mixed. Rowland obviously seemed to have his heart in it, and the few reviews that appeared were generally favourable, as if the reviewers understood that, although the album wasn't very good, it was at least sincere. In the music industry, sincerity is a very rare thing.
The record supposedly sold fewer than 1,000 copies in its first year, and has since fallen out of print (not helped by the eventual end of Creation Records). My own copy was imported from Germany. There were a few in Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus a while back. They're all gone now. Bad stuff's over.
Despite the publicity, Rowland has not been heard of since, suggesting that his career as a musician is effectively over - was 'My Beauty' the final statement of his rehabilitation to society, or was it supposed to be a new beginning? If the former, Rowland is presumably happy in his retirement; if the latter, he faces an uncertain future.
The inlay photographs feature some friends of Kevin dressed as angels. Amusingly, in one of the photographs, a woman is glancing at his bottom. It's okay. It's alright.
'I dedicate this record to K. We're fucking home now boy.'