Baxter Dury is that rarest of things, the child of a star who has gone on to become a name in his own right. The son of Ian Dury, Baxter’s career could perhaps be read as attempts to distance himself from his father’s shadow. He’s been rather effective. Listening to The Night Chancers, Ian never even crosses the mind. Instead, across a series of cinematic vignettes, the focus is always with Baxter, a film camera peering over his shoulder. Dury strikes as a sort of Cockney Serge Gainsbourg in an Italian suit, sauntering through these hazy encounters.
Baxter has a formula, and it works like a charm. You might expect his self-described “bloke talking over music with some strings” conceit to wear thin across 10 tracks, but the magnificently understated production ensures every cut lands on its feet. No song overstays its welcome; there’s not a single foray beyond 4 minutes – there’s two verses, maybe three, and then we’re moving on. This is essential when Dury has one mode of delivery - in his own words, “mockney dolphin”. Under a lesser songwriter, this might grate; with Dury, his uniformity is an advantage. The result is very powerful indeed in rendering the characters that float through the album.
And how fully realised they are. Be it the slimy ‘Slumlord’, the obsessive ex-lover of ‘Carla’s Got A Boyfriend’, or the “polo lizards” of ‘Saliva Hog’, every character feels like the subject of a documentary, rather than the flotsam of Dury’s psyche. His turn of phrase pulls you directly into the scene he’s conjuring – not a second wasted, every syllable fleshing out the panorama. I’ve resisted directly quoting lyrics, because there are just too many breath-taking turns of phrase to choose from: Dury makes the most incisive observations seem obvious.
Then there’s the music. Frankly cinematic, from the moment the synth of the opening track thunders into view, to the final orchestral stab of ‘Say Nothing’, the audience has no option but to stare directly at the widescreen vision before them. You have to hand it to him, Dury doesn’t churn out a tune that you couldn’t hum, or quote a lyric from. Not every track lands both perfectly, but when they do, there are fireworks. By the time the penultimate effort, ‘Daylight’, rolls around, you’d think Baxter would’ve expended his arsenal. But then, he does the unexpected, and plays it completely straight. This is the most affecting moment on the entire record – playing character after character, there’s nothing more unexpected than Dury simply being himself. This isn’t even the most ambitious reach the album makes; that laurel lies with ‘Say Nothing’. Dury was never going to bow out on a slow one, and there’s such an impressive amount of self-effacing gall here; the last lyrics we hear are “Baxter loves you”. It’s a fitting end to an album that lives through its protagonist. For half an hour, we see the world through Baxter Dury’s eyes – it’s an experience quite unlike any other.