It was twenty years ago this week that Ian Dury departed the stage, leaving a musical legacy that must be tricky for a son to reckon with. Baxter‘s never completely escaped its shadow; he’s inherited the family traits – the diamond geezer persona, the glint in the eye, a way with Estuary English – and they are all too readily associated with Dury Senior. But on The Night Chancers, he appears finally settled on an electro lounge lizard style that’s all his own.
He threatens and he charms, to a soundtrack of claustrophobic basement bar pop. “I’m not your fucking friend,” he opens the album. Then he closes it with a chorus of “Baxter loves you”. A blow to the jaw, then a playful clap of the cheeks. He’s a raffish nightclub owner in a crumpled, off-the-peg suit, turning up at the Queen Vic to tell Mick he’s got some “business” to attend to. Lurking behind him in case things get tasty are collaborators Madeline Hart, Rose Elinor Dougall and Delilah Holliday, who also provide lazy Bananarama (dungarees-era) backing vocals. They’re not averse to gangsterisms of their own: “Who the fuck are you, my friend?” they chant on Saliva Hog.
It’s low-key glam. Samurai‘s strings stick an umbrella in your cocktail and sit you uncomfortably close to the sad-looking burlesque dancer on stage. Sleep People’s bubbling bass sounds like an 80s soul 45 stuck on 33. “You all gotta go to sleep / You gotta all wake up and dream a new dreeeeeeam,” he gurns, like a Muppet version of Ol’ Dirty Bastard doing a cockney accent. Sleaziness is never far away. “Some people like to show / Some people like to watch / And I watch a bit too much / And you show too much,” he intones over I’m Not Your Dog’s rapid synth pulse and strings.
Like his father, he loves a character study, particularly one from the seedy side of life. “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” is how he describes his Slumlord. “He’s got horrible trousers and a small car … bit of designer hair, sloppy facial looks,” is his summation of a love rival on Carla’s Got A Boyfriend. “I might take care of him to be honest.” Adopting Mick Jagger poutiness on the title track, he sings of the “fine wine diners trying to prise money from me,” then he turns all “dry your eyes, mate” on Daylight.
It’s uneasy music for uneasy times, but with an unspoken promise we’ll all have pint and a laugh about it later. As long as he gets the cash by tonight. Otherwise he might be paying another little visit. And he won’t be so polite next time neither…