Dexys - The Feminine Divine (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


The Feminine Divine (2023)


Gender equality is at the forefront of the social discussion these days, but somehow, I didn’t expect Dexys to make a concept album based around that issue. Though, in a way, it makes a lot of sense- Dexys have their fair share of love tunes, so gender issues are inherent in that topic itself, even if it’s not often brought to the surface. Dexys frontman, Kevin Rowland sees this hidden thread and pulls it loose, all while also focusing on himself. That is, The Feminine Devine is not Rowland taking an objective stance and giving his summation on the war (or collaboration) of the sexes- it’s Kevin looking at Kevin and seeing how he fits into that complicated, big picture.

Indeed, the album is presented as a sort of journey. It opens with two wham-bam slammers that stack up with the very best of Dexys. “The one that loves you” has broad, swinging strings and “It’s alright Kevin,” (a re-work of the semi-rarities Manhood from the ‘90s) is based in that classic Dexys soul-meets-am radio swing. Both of these tracks are anchored by Rowland’s savant melody skills and really, CPULD have been sung by Jackie Wilson (just listen to him howl “and noow I knoooowwww”) or dropped into Soul Rebels or Too-rye-ay with ease. The later track is particularly interesting because it finds Rowland first looking at himself before the object of the album title- what does it mean to be a man? How do preconceive notions distort your reality? Rowland suggests that he never really felt comfortable with the staunch 70s and 8-0s definitions of the term, and if you look through old press photos, you’ll often see him wearing dresses or lingerie. Oh also, “One day I’m going to get free,” the track where he addresses breaking through gender definition boundaries, is one of the best songs he has ever written. And it's brutally honest: “I can move sometimes and not feel free/ guilt had such a hold on me/I tried many times before I realized that it all came down to me…”

The album then continues to morph and shifts from a soul revue rev up to a soul/R&B slow burn. (Probably coincidentally, I am reminded of the shift heard on the b-side of Digital Underground’s Sex Packets). At this part, Rowland looks outward and, in addition to questioning himself internally, he sees how his masculinity interacts with the outside world. It’s interesting to hear on tracks like “the feminine divine,” Rowland pays literal penance for his deeds. Is he asking for forgiveness or burning negative thoughts out of his own mind? I also like how it has a response to “it’s alright Kevin” where the female character coos “so NOW you know…”

The b-side is a particularly bold move for Dexys. In the past, the band has paid tribute to the soul and R&B of the past, but here, they are merging into contemporary soul. “My Goddess is” could be heard on any urban station. It’s also here where Rowland examines his own theses. That is, on this second half cold burn. Kevin, or the album’s characters, indulges in some sadomasochism and says he’ll completely submit to the Goddess depicted in the LP. One then wonders, if sexual implications of the album theme represent a sort of commentary that the male mind really is one track, or maybe it should be viewed through a hippie (or even religious) bend-that is, the greatest thing is love?

That string is throughout the album. At times Rowland is direct to the point of essay, but in these moments, he often leaves room for interpretation and manipulation around the edge. The album certainly has epiphany, but it also raises as many questions as it answers. Oh, and the music itself is really, really, really, really good.