Sometimes, the world just doesn’t understand. Instead of taking a little time to understand, we humans often make snap judgments based on external appearances. It’s unfortunate, but true. “Halo effect,” we call it. But in fact, it’s really about using our subconscious biases and drawing instant conclusions. Turns out that platitude of “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is a lie. Of course you judge a book by its cover—publishers spend millions of dollars every year on cover art that will appeal to you! With that, we come to the tale of Kevin Rowland’s 1999 solo album My Beauty—one of the most unfairly treated albums in rock and pop history.
And it’s all because of that damn cover.
My Beauty arose from the ashes of a decade of addiction, meltdown, and recovery. The critical and commercial disappointments of the third Dexys Midnight Runners album and his first solo release sent him spiraling. He wasn’t sure he would make music again. By the time he began recording what would become My Beauty, he’d been clean for nearly five years. Between 1997 and 1999, Rowland worked piecemeal, quietly laying down a set of songs that had affected him during his recovery process.
My Beauty begins with his take on “The Greatest Love Of All,” one of the biggest and melodramatic hits from the Eighties. His version, however, builds not upon Whitney Houston’s mega-hit, but on the original, sedate George Benson original recording from 1977. It’s a powerful, moving rendition that sets the tone for the rest of My Beauty. The next number, his take on The Four Seasons’ “Rag Doll,” is even more passionate. What should have been an anthem for empowerment and love of self…didn’t. A new video created by Rowland’s grandson—which we featured as a previous Song Of The Day—serves to tell the unfortunate My Beauty saga, before morphing into the positive anthem it should have been.
The rest of My Beauty features a mix of songs from the previous four decades, all delivered in Rowland’s distinctive and appealing style. “The Long And Winding Road” remains relatively faithful to the original, as do his covers of “This Guy’s In Love With You” and “I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top,” all songs one imagines Rowland has permanently memorized. This deluxe edition rights a wrong that happened at the last minute, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” which had to be removed at the last minute when Springsteen denied Rowland’s lyrical changes. Also featured here are two orchestral instrumentals, the album’s sole b-sides.
Upon release, the cover quickly overshadowed everything good about My Beauty. Sadly, the release only served as the beginning of a season of misfortune. Creation Records folded shortly after its release. And My Beauty garnered negative—and homophobic—press reviews, which in turn led to an infamous appearance at the Reading festival. Rowland’s comeback seemingly imploded before it began. Yet all was not lost; in 2003, he reformed Dexys Midnight Runners, and returned to the live circuit. In 2011, Rowland rebranded the group as Dexys and in 2012 released the wonderful One Day I’m Going To Soar. Rowland has not released any further solo releases. Understandably, he has no interest in doing so.
My Beauty offered an intimate and gorgeous snapshot of an artist falling back in love with music. It should have marked the return of one of the finest voices of the Eighties. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Those lucky enough to hear it the first time–yours truly included–saw its beauty. With this reissue, the rest of the world has an opportunity to do the same. Do it. You won’t be disappointed.
Purchase Kevin Rowland My Beauty: Cherry Red