As anyone who has seen Andy Serkis' fantastic portrayal of him in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll will know, Ian Dury was not always a particularly nice bloke. Despite his charming, charismatic persona he projected on stage and on record, he could be selfish, arrogant and vindictive when he wanted to be. These darker qualities seeped into his lyrics on songs like ‘I Made Mary Cry’ and ‘Poo-Poo In The Prawn’, and in many ways set him apart from his more fantastical new wave peers. Ian Dury’s work was rooted in human imperfection and the self-interest needed to get by in a hostile world.
Ian’s son Baxter has rarely previously mined such veins of lyrical ugliness. On his two proper albums, 2011’s ‘Happy Soup’ and 2014’s ‘Pleasure’ (2002’s ‘Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift’ is a fun record, but really it’s just the sound of a creator in search of for a style), he leaned towards blue-eyed cheerfulness, recounting cheery tales about growing up and chasing skirts over the kind of sun-kissed backing music Metronomy could snore out at this point. Occasionally he could get a little melancholic, but never actually aggressive.
‘Prince Of Tears’ marks a clear break from these former pleasantries as Baxter tries his hand at being a properly mean prick. “I don’t think you realise how successful I am,” he reprimands the listener on eerie opener ‘Miami’ before descending into a storm of sweary invective that rivals Sleaford Mods at their bluest: "I'm the turgid fucked up little goat pissing on your fucking hill, And you can't shit me out". Things might go a bit too Noel Fielding when he goes on to describe himself as the ‘urban goose', but the impact of that wonderfully blunt opening reverberates through the rest of the album. The presence of Sleafords' Jason Williamson himself on 'Almond Milk' is a fitting acknowledgement of the gobby Midlanders' influence (even if he never sounds as assured on guest spots as he does on his own material), not only in Baxter's more aggressive lyrical bent, but also his newfound love of building entire songs out of one single loping bass riff and drum machine loop as he does on the first three tracks.
The different characters Baxter inhabits throughout the album are all anti-social, isolated, maudlin and incredibly, incredibly foul-mouthed. Whether reminiscing about a long lost friend on 'OI' ("I hope you survived somehow and didn't turn into a total cunt, which is possible") or putting his filthy words in his co-singer Madelaine Hart’s gentler mouth on 'Porcelain' ("You're just a lonely motherfucker... I don't give a shit about you"), Baxter Dury goes out of his way to ensure that you won't ever play his new record to your gran. This is a shame, because tracks like 'Mungo' and 'Wanna' boast some really beautiful orchestration that she'd probably really enjoy.
All joking aside, it really is the strings and not the swearing that elevates this album above its predecessors. For some time now Baxter has been more popular in France than he is in Britain, to such a degree that you'd actually be more likely to introduce the music of Ian Dury as being by 'Baxter Dury's dad' than the other way round there. Much has been made over the channel about his music's resemblance to Serge Gainsbourg's, what with its alternating male/female vocals and prominent bass grooves. The addition of a 'Histoire de Melody Nelson'-style string section to his already sinister yet charming sound completes Baxter's metamorphoses into 'English Serge'.
It's a title and style that suits him, but, more importantly, this resemblance also serves to distract from the obvious critical comparison. In revealing his nastier side on 'Prince Of Tears', Baxter really did risk sailing too close to musical shores already mapped out by his father. But by cementing his role as musical heir to the mantle of Serge Gainsbourg (if you ignore the fact that Charlotte Gainsbourg herself is a pretty worthy heir), as well as perhaps the only musical peer of Sleaford Mods, Baxter might just have succeeded in further escaping Ian Dury's long, dark shadow.
Words: Josh Gray
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