Baxter Dury- Happy Soup
The problem, the paradox with children of popstars is that no matter to whom and to what they align themselves, it is nearly impossible for the public to stop seeing parents in them. These often more successful forerunners to their offspring loom large like menacing spirits in the room, dampening it must be said, the pursuits of their children. Where music is concerned, critics very often take aim with their metaphorical rotten fruit; yet when your Dad is a rock n roll icon, it isn’t easy to realise your own qualities at the best of times, let alone live up to the expectation that has been foisted upon you.
This is not Baxter Dury’s first album; however, in the two weeks since its release, Happy Soup has already proved to be his most widely publicised. The son of Ian Dury and the Blockheads singer Ian Dury, Baxter, now nearly 40, has had two previous LP- Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift in 2002 and Floor Show in 2005. The film Sex & Drugs & Roll revealed some of the tumultuous experiences he went through as a child under his Dad’s heady rock n roll influence.
That back-story though clearly did not get in the way of critics’ response to this latest Dury outing. No. You see Happy Soup is an odd, ramshackle, cockney Londoner’s album. It’s Baxter’s, not Ian’s, teasing out and celebrating as it does the idiosyncrasies of his own unusual persona. Dury’s voice is striking: strikingly plain, dour, direct and deadpan. Unsentimentally recalling personal events that really should warrant some kind of emotion or cracking of the mask, his style is like a male Lily Allen in middle-age, Alan Donohue from London band The Rakes in positively sombre form. With witty urban social commentary and pokerfaced delivery giving the impression that Dury is jaded, quietly brooding and disconnected from his own depictions, Happy Soup in many ways appears mildly cathartic. Indeed he apparently didn’t change the names of ‘Claire’ of ‘Isabel’, which describe former relationships. “I think my mate slept with you when you were in Portugal” is one such revelation, yet Dury delivers it like trying to get his words recognised on an automated booking line.
If Dury’s songs are about personal experience, he tries not to wallow in their sorry bog, both in terms of his disconnected delivery and the music itself. In the spirit of the English rock everyman, ‘Trellic’ delivers a simple riff and vocal that would put the best Rakes and Art Brut tracks to shame. Yet, even when trying to sound hopeful, the morose atmosphere usually wins. On ‘Leak at the Disco’ (a song closely resembling Maximo Park’s ‘Acrobat’ from 2005), he sings to a thudding bass drum and carefully chosen synth notes: “Love has all but broken you” goes the grim chorus line. In these moments, Dury finds tenderness and beauty. There is an implication somewhere in the music that sadness and reflection will one day bring redemption; that all is not lost, but we cannot find a way out just now. The song soars to its anxious close. Elsewhere, Dury uses sparse instrumentation to draw attention to his voice and lyrics.
Happy Soup is a great and unusual album. It is well-imagined, easy to listen to and while in betrayal of its title it is a little downhearted, excellent instrumentation and Dury’s sensitively summoned vocal transform its defeatism into a rich, human and vivid charm that belie its simplicity. For those who are interested, Happy Soup is one of Rough Trade's picks of the month. Baxter will also be touring the UK in October/November this year.