Album Review: Baxter Dury – I Thought I Was Better Than You (Heavenly Records)

by | Jun 11, 2023 | Album Reviews, Blog

I Thought I Was Better Than Youdelves deep into the complexities of Baxter Dury‘s life as the son of the renowned musician Ian (The Blockheads). With a reflective and mature approach, Dury explores the impact of his famous parentage, raising intriguing questions about identity and artistic expression. Touring Europe in support, the English indie raconteur will be making is Romanian debut at Control Club on Tuesday, June 13.

As a companion piece to his 2021 memoir Chaise Longue, I Thought I Was Better Than You expands upon the themes explored in the book. Dury’s lyrics become a tapestry of disconnected imagery, resembling a form of cockney hieroglyphics that vividly portray his unique childhood and tumultuous youth. From the opening lines of So Much Money – “Hey Mummy / Hey Daddy / Who am I?” – it becomes clear that Dury is on a quest for self-discovery.

Musically, the album exhibits a captivating blend of influences, ranging from Tyler the Creator to Vegyn. Collaborating with producer Paul White (Danny Brown, Charli XCX), Dury embraces a looser hip-hop-inflected style, evoking a drowsy, psychedelic west-coast ambience. The production also exhibits traces of Frank Ocean, characterized by woozy textures and manipulated vocal arrangements. His deliberate use of minimalistic elements, from infectious foundational beats to bright piano chords and mesmerizing guitar licks, adds additional depth. The dreamy production and manipulated vocals of Celebrate Me, a perfect example.

Another standout track, Shadow, written by Dury’s son, Kosmo, delves into the longing for recognition as an individual artist while grappling with the legacy of paternal notoriety. The interplay between Dury’s candid verses (“No one will get over that you’re someone’s son / Even though you want to be like Frank Ocean / But you don’t sound like him, you sound just like Ian.”) and the ethereal vocals of a female choir evoke an emotional resonance somewhere between tragedy and comedy. 

Dury’s vocal delivery is complemented by the enchanting contributions of Eska Mtungwazi, JGrrey, and Madeline Hart. Their captivating harmonies provide a warm and inviting contrast to Dury’s languid cadence. Acting as the embodiment of Baxter’s subconscious, their vocals occasionally take centre stage, yet he remains the undeniable protagonist of his own story. The interplay between their voices adds richness to tracks like Leon and brings a heartfelt sentimentality to the album’s emotive closer, Glows.

In this, his seventh studio album, Dury, seems to have a cathartic release, a way to exorcise his father’s legacy and establish his own artistic autonomy. His ability to weave together personal narratives from his memoir and his musical compositions is commendable, at the least, coming a long way since his confrontational debut of twenty years ago, Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift. Characters reappear in Aylesbury Boy and the personal favourite g-funk of Pale White Nissan, adding a cohesive thread throughout. 

I Thought I Was Better Than You ventures into the realm of a concept album as Baxter Dury fearlessly delves into his innermost self. He breaks free from complexity through the interplay of voice, music, and instruments rather than privileging playfulness and experimentation. The album strikes a delicate balance between the surreal and witty to the deeply personal, captivating listeners with a magnetic charm and emotional depth. 

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