Baxter Dury’s sixth studio album, The Night Chancers, refines the sound and storytelling that Dury has teased on previous tracks like Miami and Cocaine Man. Dury’s development of this dark, almost orchestral, sound establishes him as an artist in his own right, further separating him from his father, Ian Dury’s, unavoidable shadow. An aspect they seem to share – and thankfully so – is their ability to tell stories, and to develop tangible characters, without compromising the musical integrity.
Baxter Dury launches the listener into the album, quickly imposing an individualistic dynamic, affirming a fittingly ‘every man for themself’ attitude, which seems to be the common thread between his arsenal of Night Chancer characters. Dury enters himself as a first-person narrator, firstly as the sleazy slumlord, and later as Carla’s malevolent admirer, targeting violence and ominous judgments on her boyfriend. In doing this, Dury posits himself as something more-than-voyeur, perhaps implying assimilation with these chancers.
The atmospheric use of repeated rhythms and aural motifs, for example, the same steady drum beat cropping up multiple times, and weeping strings, plunges the listener into a believable world of London chancers. The consistency of sound reaffirms the existence of these characters within the same realm, as individuals with shared hostility, and likely mutual acquaintances. Dury’s staple backing singers provide both the purpose of an echoing voice, challenging the behaviors of the character Dury has temporarily taken on, and as an interesting subversion of artists like Leonard Cohen’s own sprechgesang who, when accompanied by vocalists, heightens the gentility and romance of sentiment. Here, Dury’s singers seem to, at times, orient him on his perusal of these eery vignettes, and also remind the listener of the faceless victim’s existence.
The pace slows, and a tonal shift is initiated, on the penultimate track Daylight. Baxter Dury and his backing vocalists sing in unison, symbolizing a potential character reconciliation, and more broadly, hope for the future with the dawn of a new day. If the Night Chancers takes place over the course of one night, Daylight brings the hope of a literal new dawn and a chance for redemption. However, as the shortest track on the album, it remains as nothing more than a glimpse, and Dury charges into the final track; Say Nothing.
It is not coincidental that Say Nothing immediately launches with a contrasting structured, quickened beat… ‘Waiting for the life / Nothing but the chances…’, ensuring any hope that may have been sparked with the rise of a new day is quickly dampened, and all hope diminished. There are few lyrics more vehemently hopeless than ‘And I lie down / And let the cars run over my lifeless body’. It would seem that Baxter Dury is reminding us of the Beckettesque escape within which we all exist. But, despite our misdemeanors, ‘Baxter loves you’.
Reviewed By Alex Simpson