KEVIN ROWLAND My Beauty (Creation)
In which the former Dexys Midnight Runners lead singer and guiding light returns from a decade in the drug hell/personal problems/obscurity wilderness with his second solo long player, recorded for überfan Alan McGee's Creation label. It's probably telling to quote large chunks of Rowland's booklet notes here: "After being so lost and seeing only ugliness in the world, these songs started to penetrate my frightened world. They re-awakened something I'd only fleetingly sensed before and even then it was only a feeling of something I'd lost long ago. But it was enough to make me grab it. It was beauty. I'd forgotten all about it".
So what might these talismen be? Lots of obscure Northern soul sides, spiked with a few punk classics and Van Morrison numbers? Uh, guess again. Much of "My Beauty" consists of remakes of disposable, flawless pop nuggets, with Rowland's hearty singing backed up by a formidable gaggle of session talent, familiar names from the credits including Neil Hubbard, Pete Wingfield, Blair Cunningham, Frank Ricotti, Gavyn Wright, Fiachra Tench, Isobel Griffiths (the subject of Bjork's "Isobel"), Carol Kenyon and Mark Feltham. All this talent almost swamps the slighter songs, and despite the creator's protestations you have to wonder exactly how much meaning can be derived from the songs made famous by Whitney Houston, The Hollies, The Four Seasons, Unit 4 + 2 and The Monkees presented here. The song that undergoes the most comprehensive makeover is Squeeze's "Labelled With Love", now subtitled "I'll Stay With My Dreams", receiving lacerating new lyrics about a cocaine habit and an uncharacteristically jaunty rock 'n' roll coda.
"My Beauty" isn't a bad album: under the superficial glossiness of the songs and arrangements is the sound of one man's suffering, and it's the unconventional manner of its expression that makes the album so car-crash compelling. Consider the publicity shots of Rowland in lingerie and lipstick, recall the baffling three song karaoke Reading Festival appearance, when he was accompanied on stage by go-go dancers, and then discuss the line in the version of "The Greatest Love Of All" that opens this album, "No matter what they say about me/They can't take my personal dignity".
Those booklet notes again: "These songs showed me my definition of beauty, my beauty. I realised I needed to record them before I could do anything else." So that's that out of the way, then. Now, would the real Kevin Rowland stand up please if he hasn't already?