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Baxter Dury - The Night Chancers (Album Review)

Wednesday, 25 March 2020 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Tom Beard

Baxter Dury’s sixth studio album is also likely his best. Crisp bass grooves and ‘90s hip hop drums provide a satisfying backdrop to a performance persona that is getting better with age. At 48, he is a musician who has worked long and hard to find an audience and this album may broaden his appeal towards the levels seen by his late father, the new wave icon Ian Dury.

One reason for this is the clarity of his individual voice on ‘The Night Chancers’. Dury is a cockney chanteur in the style of Serge Gainsbourg, loitering around grotty bars in a cheap suit, noting down stories about regret, self-destruction and bad luck. On the one hand this is a bit of a pastiche of his French precursor, and on the other it is a perfectly legitimate performance style, and one which is underserved in the English language.

That said, some of the Gainsbourg stuff is a little on the nose. Samurai features a woman panting in semi-orgasmic ecstasy throughout (akin to Gainsbourg’s biggest hit, Je t’aime… moi non plus), while Smiling People gives the very real impression of Dury watching the folly of society elites from afar as he mumbles cryptic wisdoms—another strong Gainsbourg trope. 

Actually, the inebriation of Dury’s character is recognisable as that of the highly trained alcoholic; the kind of man who gets to a certain level of semi-cognisance and manages to stay there for hours before suddenly falling off his bar stool. But, some of it works less well. 

While the production and string arrangements are great, too often the interplay between female backing vocals and Dury’s storytelling does not land convincingly. This is most noteworthy on Carla’s Got a Boyfriend and Say Nothing, both of which sound a little untidy and conceptually unformed—like Dury wrote half a song and hoped the music would do the rest. It doesn't.

But generally this is a very satisfying record and one that demonstrates a talent that has developed over a long time. There is actually a similarity in the development of Gainsbourg’s own daughter, Charlotte, whose musical career has taken a little longer to flourish. Perhaps celebrity lineage has hidden artistic merits—they may have been afforded more time to find their artistic voices.

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