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Baxter Dury’s pen is sharper than ever on I Thought I Was Better Than You

"I Thought I Was Better Than You"

Release date: 02 June 2023
Baxter Dury - I Thought I Was Better Than You cover
30 May 2023, 09:00 Written by Janne Oinonen

‘’Who am I? Who am I, mummy?’’, ponders Baxter Dury during the opening moments of I Thought I Was Better Than You. The musician and writer’s superbly engaging seventh album provides some compelling answers.

In some ways a companion piece to Dury’s 2021 memoir Chaise Longue (which looked back at Dury Jr’s largely distracted hands-off upbringing with his father, singer and songwriter Ian Dury), I Thought I Was Better Than You is more openly (yet abstractedly, or certainly not obviously) autobiographical than Dury’s past work.

Dury’s past forays into fragile male ego, sinister scenes with dodgy characters and nighttime manoeuvres have been seriously entertaining. Little of it can really compete with the complexity and delicate balance between tragedy and comedy of these fragmented memories of a properly bohemian upbringing. The idiosyncratic reflections on the troublesome legacy of having a rather famous parent (a situation that must hang heavy around the neck of any aspiring artist who wishes to move into the family business) are equally engaging.

The latter category reaches an unsurmountable peak on the jaw-dropping “Shadow”. Written with Dury’s own son, Kosmo, the track pits Dury’s litany of cult hero aspirations against a female choir who move from lamenting the impossibility of escaping the chokehold of filial comparisons to what approaches an artistic character assassination (‘’No one will get over that you’re someone’s son / Even though you want to be Frank Ocean / But you don’t sound like him, you sound just like Ian’’) with such consummate ease that you’re never quite sure whether we’re meant to laugh or cry.

The music is a worthy match to the thoroughly inspired writing. Heavily inspired by hip hop (classic and contemporary), the tracks move between bass-pumping bangers that seem designed to set the backends of Cadillacs bouncing on a mid-90s West Coast hip hop video (the seriously funky first single “Aylesbury Boy”, featuring JGrrey) to yacht-lounging singalongs (“Celebrate Me”) and inspired oddballs (the half-remembered dream/nightmare vibes of “Crashes”). The central contributions of female vocalists (Eska and Madeline Hart alongside JGrrey) occasionally relegate Dury’s conversational tones (which do indeed ‘sound just like Ian’) to the margins, most notably on the beautifully serene closer “Glows”.

I Thought I Was Better Than You is filled with so many ideas and arresting details that it’s hard to believe it’s all done in under 30 minutes. Dury has recently described himself as a "really budget nepo-baby". Ironically for an album so deeply immersed in the past and the all-enveloping shadow of a famous parent, the album provides that Dury’s talents require no piggybacking on anyone else’s fame: this is the real deal.

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