If, like me, you are born after this record came out, you likely know one and only song by this band, “Come on Eileen”. (In North America, anyway. Their other biggest hit, the one from this record, was not a hit here.) Moreover, you’ve heard that song so much that you hate it and the band that made it. (Or, at the very least, you hate all the drunk people who get very happy when it comes on.) Well, if that’s true, you’re missing out on something special, just like I was.
This is a pretty great record, which combines American soul with the (somewhat mild) edge of British punk. It’s a fusion that should have been obvious to somebody before this record. (And maybe it was, honestly. I know nothing about Northern Soul.) And it’s a fusion that is mostly expertly executed on this album. After a decade+ of soul being bastardized into safe pop music, something like this was necessary to revitalize the genre. (Not that Americans noticed…)
The songs are mostly pretty good. The melodies are catchy enough and the lyrics are sometimes better than you would expect from a soul record. (It should come as no surprise that some snotty British young people would try to write lyrics that aspired to something a little more than “Ooo baby, love you baby” or “Please come back” or whatever.)
But the real stars here are Rowland’s delivery – he almost sounds like a soulful Robert Smith – and those horns. This is what soul should sound like, a wailing singer and wailing, nearly drunk horns. It’s pretty fucking great.
I have one quibble: The poem is obnoxious. If Rowland was, like, 22 when he recorded it, I’d forgive him. But he wasn’t so I find it less forgivable.
And it really is the only blemish on what is, for me, very likely the best soul album of its era. (I say this partly from ignorance, of course. But compare this to the vast majority of successful “soul” records coming out of the US in 1980, it’s not even close…)