MEAWW's Basement Tapes: Baxter Dury paints moody, grimy vignettes of modern dysfunction in 'The Night Chancers'
Best known as Ian Dury's son, Baxter has slowly but surely emerged out of his father's shadow as an artist in the vein of Serge Gainsbourg & Leonard Cohen
The first time we ever got a glimpse of Baxter Dury on an album cover was way back in 1977 when he appeared as a cherubic five-year-old on the artwork for his father Ian Dury's platinum-selling debut album, 'New Boots and Panties!!'
As the son of one of Britain's most-loved urban poets and iconic singer-songwriters, Baxter certainly had big boots to fill when he embarked on his own solo career as an artiste. And the apple certainly doesn't fall far from the tree, judging by his early output.
Ian Dury was known for his humorous lyrics, striking character sketches, and honest social commentary, and Baxter Dury set his sails in that direction with his 'Oscar Brown' EP in 2001 and his debut LP 'Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift' in 2002.
Over the course of his next few albums, he started carving out his own idiosyncratic style, becoming Britain's quintessential answer to Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and Serge Gainsbourg, taking on the mantle of a coarse, cavalier modern-day poet and troubadour.
Baxter really came into his own with the release of 'Prince of Tears' in 2017, which earned him a lot of praise and attention across Europe (he was likened to the English Serge Gainsbourg in France).
And with 2020's 'The Night Chancers', Baxter has built on his modern storytelling foundation and painted a dark, sordid, observational picture of the mannerisms and interactions of everyday society via a series of sleazy, surreal, and semi-biographical vignettes.
If the gorgeous string arrangements, groovy bass motifs, and Baxter's laidback drawl set over sultry female backing vocals don't draw you in, the lyrics will certainly grab your attention.
"Charm dripping like fresh honey / I'm the milky bar kid / Soiled trousers / Shiny cheekbones like graveyards in the sun / Murder shoes / Dirty eyes sizing up" make for an interesting character study in 'Slumlord', one of the album's gritty, sublime standout tracks.
'Sleep People' dissects the glamorous people one might often meet in a glitzy nightclub after one drink too many, just before you pass out - "Selective friends with funny names... free drinks for the pencil thin," slurs an inebriated Dury in his greatest Tom Waits moment.
On 'Carla's Got A Boyfriend', Dury paints a swirling, halting picture of a man he would never wish to be - the jealous, pithy lyrics include "He's got horrible trousers and a small car/ I spotted him on Instagram, followed him about a bit," before leading to a hilarious revelation - "He looks like me".
There's plenty more of these moody tales - 'Saliva Hog' combines a slow funk groove and hip-hop beats with lyrics that undress the song's seedy protagonist, noting he's "a sloppy spiv with an open shirt" as the backup dancers coo "Who the f**k are you, my friend?" 'Samurai' is even more lascivious, with its recurring sexual-moans motif conjuring up visions of Serge Gainsbourg's hit 'Je T’aime... Moi Non Plus,' as Dury's gravelly voice glides over the sweeping strings like a stealthy ninja warrior.
A special mention too for 'I'm Not Your Dog' which is a departure from the singer's usual sound - its pulsing rhythms, melded with the minimalist French couplets in the chorus sounds like the Canadian poet Leonard Cohen decided to collaborate with Kraftwerk. "C'est n'es pas mon problem /Je ne suis pas ton chien (It’s not my problem / I am not your dog)," quips the laconic Dury.
There's some striking variety on this album too - the soothing, romantic strains of 'Daylight' sees Baxter crooning over a lost lover using some beautiful, poignant visual imagery - “The knife in my heart / The cold steel in your hands... You were so lovely / Standing in the driveway / With your eyes flickering in the wind... I was just smiling, laughing at nothing / But that moment, we were the same... You went missing into the night time / And I knew that was it forever.”
This is certainly a gem of a record and a good introduction as any to the unique stylings of Baxter Dury. Using healthy dollops of soft, seductive lounge music and grubby voyeuristic tales from the dark underbelly of society, Baxter has redefined "dirty chic" on this brilliant new album.
All in all, 'The Night Chancers' is a fresh perspective on urban dysfunction as viewed through the grimy lens of modern troubadourism. Definitely worth getting your hands and ears dirty over.
'MEAWW's Basement Tapes' is a weekly column that shines a spotlight on undiscovered/underrated musical gems.