“He’s a salamander siphoning his way through music, dropping urban-scented vignettes of candid perfume with his poetical drawl”
Baxter Dury, according to new album ‘Prince of Tears’, is the “king of the migraines”. There’s few who manage to project the same combination of cheek, tongue and spit. Those who tune their radio to the savvy side of the dial would have heard Dury’s current single, ‘Miami’, its breezy chorus proving he’s a fucking genius when it comes to depositing acid-tinged confessions in the bank. In his mid-forties, Dury’s not a man to be rushed; his first of five albums, 2002’s ‘Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift’, introduced us to his mercurial world of otherworldly talent. Forward the clock to 2017 and ‘Prince of Tears’ spares no time getting under the skin – and into the darkest part of the brain.
‘Miami’s taut and highway-owning bass bosses into view, joined by twinkling synths and some fixed-stare percussion. Dury’s distinct accent – you can hear the streets of the ‘Sarf’ explode from every vowel – talks about broken promises and mystery (“I don’t think you know who I am”). “The tiny little ghost”; “The ghostly dude” – whoever the city-wise chameleon is, he’s always intoxicated and filled with charm.
‘Miami’’s twanging bass and sunburnt synths are replaced with Serge Gainsbourg-inspired strings: a rapturous orgasm whose vibrating embers will stay in the heart for days. ‘Porcelain’ keeps the energy going – but rather than a nod to the beaches of Miami, we get a more soulful ode to the perverse avenues of the common streets. Rose Elinor Dougall takes the only lead vocal on the song, her elegant voice making the hero-slagging-off choruses as raw as anything Dury announces.
‘Listen’ provides the sort of swagger fans of Baxter Dury have come to love and expect. “Did you listen?!” our man asks, as he talks about those who laugh inside and make judgement, “leave you in the mess”, and cast you aside. Elinor Dougall’s back on microphone duties and soothingly sings about those in white coats coming “for the clever ones”. Knuckle-sharpening guitars twang precisely; the bass buzzes like a pissed wasp at a neon convention. There’s a sense of the romantic that harmoniously juxtaposes those saltier notes.
‘Letter Bomb’ begins with an oblique spoken section from Dury, before leading into a two-handed singalong – wordless notes from Elinor Douglass, the song’s chorus/title from Dury. It’s deranged and strange, unpredictable and simple, with very few actual lines of dialogue and more utterances and asides. Although it’s one of Prince of Tears’ less stellar tracks, it shows one of the many sides to the eccentric Dury.
‘OI’, with its cheeky-chap title, is not as lary as its name might suggest; the geezer-wannabe boy is actually a sensitive soul. Dury talks about the chaos of the flats near Chiswick High Road while organs whirl in the undertow. The focus is on Dury’s captivating vocal – less sung, more spoken, as if disseminated to a bar-side cleric. One-hundred-and-forty-two-seconds of touching romantic confession calms the album and proves, away from the croak, that Dury’s a man you can take home to your mum (even if he’d put gin in her tea and call her an ugly slag).
Song-titles are, aside from ‘Almond Milk’ and ‘Letter Bomb’, one-worded. ‘August’ shows why – it’s a to-the-point and focused thing. Dury looks at those incarcerated and belonging – when outside, “They don’t understand/Laughing at you”. On closer examination, there;s more personal touchstones; “You and I will never be the same” could be codified explanations of failed love.
‘Wanna’ returns to the pulpit of the French coda; the spine-tingling orchestration and heart-on-sleeve vocals; the hero accepting…barely able to contain his tears…blame. Fallibility and mortality sit alongside one another in a strong and hugely emotional track. ‘Tears’ ensures the tissues are as wet as its strings, and bare-naked lyrics keep the soul confessional. Whether the album’s jester is Baxter or assumed fiction – you just can’t help but connect dots to Baxter himself.
Prince of Tears is an album that converses with the ghost of the senior Ian Dury – a man who was, as said by his own son, a funny (if intermittently irritating) figure. There’s shared D.N.A. with the pronunciations, the vocal timbre – but what distinguishes Prince of Tears from any Ian Dury album are the clashes of emotions. The regency tears are fused against incredibly beddable string articulations and heart-skipping kisses. There’s a couple of misses (‘Almond Milk’ and ‘Letter Bomb’ don’t linger long past the first listen), but Baxter Dury’s latest record is filled with treats. It’s accessible for newcomers and familiar for established fans. Florid language aside: Prince of Tears is a fucking pucker record, mate!