Baxter Dury: The Night Chancers review – sultry, sleazy, sneering vignettes
The Night Chancers
Singer / Songwriter
It would have been completely understandable if Baxter Dury had spent his career shying away from the family name. After all, the shadow cast by his father, Ian Dury, remains both a long and portentous one; fans may even note that his sixth album is being released almost 20 years to the day since the elder Dury’s untimely death.
Even so, Dury has managed to plot has own uncommon course without being particularly encumbered by his father’s legacy. From his 2002 debut, Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift, up to 2017’s underrated Prince of Tears, the now-48-year-old has proven his worth as a judicious lyricist and – more significantly – an excellent inhabiter of characters.
Then there’s the music, which has run the gamut of alternative indie to synthpop to sleazy crooner. It’s not hard to see why Dury’s biggest fanbase is in France, for example: much of his catalogue has treaded the same line between sultriness and sleaziness as Serge Gainsbourg’s, frequently delivered with an impassive sneer that thumbs its nose at the unenlightened.
Baxter Dury - I'm Not Your Dog (official music video)
There’s a sense that amidst the takedowns and pugnacity, Dury both recognises and rejects the characters in these songs
The Night Chancers sees Dury operate on that same musical plane. With vocalist Madelaine Hart providing a breathy counterpoint to the gorgeous deep rumble of his voice, songs like Samurai sound like they were recorded in a haze of Gauloises smoke and red wine. The fuzzy bassline on Saliva Hog and the strings and saxophone on Hello I’m Sorry could easily pass for 1970s tracks, if not for the various references to social media, while the more vulnerable Daylight sees him soften his belligerence.
The Night Chancers of the title are, in his own words, “failed fashionistas, Instagram voyeurs, jilted Romeos reeking insecurity; the willingly unaware; the comically self-deluded.” Their stories are told in vignettes such as Carla’s Got a Boyfriend (“He’s got horrible trousers and a small car”) while Sleep People scoffs at the pathetic hangers-on of the dwindling fashion set. The potently grimy Slumlord (“I’m the Milky Bar kid, soiled trousers / Shiny cheekbones like graveyards in the sun”) is the kind of ne’er-do-well character assassination that Dury excels at.
There’s a sense that amidst the takedowns and pugnacity, Dury both recognises and rejects the characters in these songs. He says as much, if you listen carefully: the album’s opening lines sneer “I’m not your f***in’ friend...”, but the closing salvo of Hart singing “Baxter loves you” on Say Nothing provides a counterpoint to such hostility. Yes, there’s a lot to unravel in an album that’s only 31 minutes long but, crucially, you’ll want to return to try to figure it all out.