The sonic chameleon returns with his most morose effort yet.
Six albums in and the mutant messenger that is Baxter Dury returns with his latest musings, The Night Chancers.
Dury’s stock has risen considerably during the last five years – most notably with his last album, 2017’s Prince of Tears, which drew acclaim beyond his seemingly second refuge in France – right here in ol’ Blighty.
Prior to Prince of Tears, the son of Ian Dury made tremendous waves along with French Rivera with his 2014 oeuvre, It’s A Pleasure. It was well overdue adulation.
With The Night Chancers, things seem a bit different. Like Dury has had his taste of fame and considered retreating into the shadows.
It’s no bad thing.
Dury still adopts that male-female Gainsbourg-like crossover quality which has served him well since It’s A Pleasure. Here though, he chooses a backdrop of soundscapes where he has turned down the dial on the playful funk aesthetic and instead nurtured it in more subtle bursts alongside shiny rich textures. There’s no better example of this than during Samurai.
Dury has always been a skittish chameleon. A quick in-and-out merchant, knowing that his current artistic default settings can only hold an audience for so long. He’s always been smart enough not to outstay his welcome.
On The Night Chancers, there’s an air of contemplation. A loose concept album, even, ducking and weaving between lust and love, arriving in that ever-present grey area. Overall, the mood isn’t a world away from his stunning sophomore album, Floor Show.
Where Floor Show was a younger Dury recounting the debaucherous tales of his youth through pleasure-seeking protagonists, here he is reflecting on loss and heartbreak but with a new sardonic edge with mordant cynicism festering underneath.
The opening number, I’m Not Your Dog, does indeed have the bite of a hound that’s wary of anyone but its owner. The motorik keys and minimal guitar reverb with subtle inflections of funk give off an air of darkness.
“I’m not your fuckin’ friend/Tryin’ to be though/Tryin’ to feel it/Tryin to be it” he starts. “But I’ve been following you everywhere/Some people like to show/Some people like watching/ And I watch a bit too much/But you show too much.”
These murky missives set the scene for what’s to come.
So downcast, some of the tracks you could almost imagine being a Sleaford Mods song, particular Slumlord. Dury and Jason Williamson have struck up a blossoming friendship over the years and, notwithstanding the latter’s appearance on Almond Milk, this is the first time the Mods‘ influence can be distinctly heard seeping into Dury‘s repertoire.
“Charm dripping like honey/I’m the Milky Bar Kid/Soiled trousers/Shiny cheekbones like graveyards in the sun.”
It’s the closest thing Dury finds to his much-lauded single from 2017’s Prince of Tears, the mind-bending acrobatic tour-de-force in Miami.
Moving on and there’s a familiar terrain Dury takes us on, for this character seems to display an uncanny resemblance to past ghosts of the Baxter Dury broad-church. This time it’s Carla and she’s got a new boyfriend.
In fine form, Carla’s Got A Boyfriend finds Dury pulling the piss out of the said man’s ill-fitting trousers, dickhead haircut and messy facial foliage after spending too much time scrolling through the bloke’s Instagram account. There are sour grapes and Dury thrives on the taste.
“Carla’s got a problem/Carla’s got a boyfriend/That looks like me.”
It has a parallel unsettling quality to that of Prince of Tears’ Oi.
The rich orchestra traipse and hip-hop beats during the album’s title track see Dury reaching for the dusty crates of his youth.
“You left me with the crumbs of my spare thoughts/You left me with the noise of the night chancers/ Good cheer to the wee hours.”
Daylight is an open letter of lost love. Dury hasn’t laid it on the line like this before, seemingly at the ends of the earth in a spill-it-all lament. The track’s fade-out riff could well be as good as Roy Bittan‘s piano solo on Bruce Springsteen‘s Stolen Car. We’ll find the definitive answer with more time spent in its company.
Say Nothing culminates the anxious misery that envelops The Night Chancers. Perhaps with Dury‘s most despondent verse yet.
“And I lie down and let the cars run over my lifeless body/Each wheel represents pain/For all of us.”
The last chorus of words projected by Dury‘s often equal foul-mouthed female companion – “Baxter loves you/ Baxter loves you.”
The Night Chancers is a slow burn. Dury has always produced music of this quality and that’s why his fellow Britons have always found his music hard to pierce. The French know the score, though. Had Dury been born there then there’s little doubt he’d be heralded as a national treasure.
The durability of Dury’s song-craft will outlast his contemporaries. Not that he has that many given his unique form of sneering satire. The man stands alone and sometimes that’s the best way.