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Baxter Dury
The Night Chancers Jo Higgs , March 23rd, 2020 09:22

Baxter Dury may never escape from his father's shadow, but perhaps that's precisely the source of his peculiar charm, ponders Jo Higgs

As far as opening lyrics go, “I’m not your fucking friend”, is hardly the most warmly alluring invite into a project you’re likely to receive, yet this is the way of Baxter Dury. His brash honesty is somewhat rectified as ‘I’m Not Your Dog’ moves forward. A fragile vulnerability is presented, acting as a softener to his outward abrasion. His character is tangled up in a twisted lust with the songs unknown muse, yet the lyrical progression releases no obvious conclusion or unknotting to the affair, leaving the listener as emotionally perplexed as the narrator seems at the start. Hovering above luscious synth-strings and a guitar line that calls back on itself over and over, a fractured mind traipses almost aimlessly through an identity crisis of sorts. Somewhat confusingly given Dury’s past teasing of French culture, the titular line is in fact lulled delicately in French (‘Je ne suis pas ton chien’) by a female voice, perhaps representative of the other half of the situational turmoil.

Dury’s oft-confused lust permeates the album, finding itself manifesting in various interesting forms, played off as vignettes (although there is an undeniable Baxter Dury-ish characterisation shining through in each). In ‘Carla’s Got a Boyfriend’, a jealous ex toys with thoughts of violent confrontation provoked by an incessant insecurity that sees the character wander through all sorts of needless accusations and mockings of Carla’s new lover. As with many moments across the album, it is difficult to clarify whether or not the female vocals that often form the choruses or refrains of songs are to represent the voice of a separate character within the narrative, or if they represent simply the desires of the production for a sweeter voice to break up Dury’s rambling cockney poetics – unsurprisingly akin to those of his father, the inimitable (to all but Baxter), Ian Dury.

Instrumental variation across The Night Chancers is left wanting as the same aesthetic choices appear in close to each and every cut, once in a while finding a screaming saxophone or a particularly buzz-sawing synth tearing into the otherwise, standard arrangement. This repetitive comfort of painting each lyrical portrait upon the same textured background provides a homely cushioning for the listener, and no one sensibly makes a decision to play a Baxter Dury project with the aim of exploring colourful sonic diversity; one looks to his music for deep but twistedly dark poetic vignettes exploring the human/Dury psyche with inflections of hilarity.

For example, on ‘Slumlord’, a track that jumps into the mix as a creatively sleazy impersonation of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ (still oozing an odd sexiness), Dury slurs “charm dripping like honey, I’m the milky bar kid / soiled trousers, shiny cheekbones like graveyards in the sun – murder shoes.” It may prove hard to decipher but this stream of consciousness-like absurdity locks in the listener’s attention and drives forwards into the album, having flaunted its oddest gem.

Even with each powerful stride forwards in his career, it never seems Baxter will quite escape the shadowing of his late father, Ian. Yet, perhaps it is this paternal context, this very partial eclipsing that leaves Baxter’s work with a great style of its own. After all, a light emanating from shade will always appear brighter than one already doused in daylight.