I tune into a Zoom with Baxter Dury – no middleman, no waiting room – just a smiling Dury in his flat on the Thames. What version of Baxter Dury was I expecting? “I think I project a bit of a dangerous character, that people are either relieved or disappointed I’m not.”
There’s a stark contrast between the outspoken Renaissance protestor and the man sitting in front of me, but Dury is entirely aware of it. In fact, he beats you to any assumptions of his image. On his new album I Thought I Was Better Than You he asks, “Who am I?”
As his seventh studio album – and latest since the release of his memoir Chaise Longue – the songs reflect the chapters of Dury’s life, portraying the bohemians, the avant-garde types, the sausage-meat-thighed-men, the famous father and the Aylesbury boy himself, in all their faults and glory.
“It was a lazy reference, because I didn’t know what else to do and I thought I’d appropriate it in a faux hip-hop way. I used what I may have felt growing up, you know, we were these bohemians – West London, urban, multicultural things – and our accents and everything were all a bit of a mutation” he explains. “We were inventing ourselves. I made it sound very candid, but also more mysterious, in a way that people who do hip-hop really well do very convincingly. I thought I’d do it a bit badly, by the nature of the kind of music I make, so I wasn’t pretending to be that.”
Dury’s lyrics indulge in the disgusting, provocative, and loose seductive meanings that Virginia Woolf called a stream of consciousness. Our protagonist is noncommittal with his phrases, both lyrically and conversationally. It’s clear that Dury doesn’t want to be seen as a concrete figure that you can fully understand.
“You don’t want to over-document in a song because it burdens you too much. A documentary narrative starts to make it less mysterious. There has to be a foggy abstractness to a song for it to work.”
I Thought I Was Better Than You invites you into the wandering mind of Dury questioning his identity. There’s room for the ideas to be relatable as they take on multiple meanings – he’s a poet indulging in the abstract.
“My wordsmithery is compensation for my lack of singing. I find too many words sometimes offensive, and I try and pull back from that. There’s a valve missing in my head, so words can leak out very readily. I guess it’s a family trait – the avant-garde wordy types.”
Each of Dury’s Nine Songs selections come with their own story. Dury’s choices don’t lean towards the permanence of Desert Island Discs, but more the ever-changing mood of a Discover Weekly. He’s non-committal in his reasoning, but one thing is for sure, he thinks Frank Ocean is a clever man. Did he enjoy the selective process? “I did and I didn’t, because I switch off to what I like every other day. I’m not that attached to what’s very permanent.”
If anything, we get a little closer to the evolving image of Baxter Dury – something he openly tackles in I Thought I Was Better Than You. If Dury asks, ‘Who am I?’, the poet answers his own question. He’s Captain Chiswick, the Aylesbury boy, aka Burger King Trousers, the pineapple-headed knob, the bohemian with a famous father, the Renaissance man – he’s Baxter Dury.
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