Album Review: Baxter Dury – I Thought I Was Better Than You (Heavenly Records)
Baxter Dury, poet, writer, and musician, returns with his new album, ‘I Thought I Was Better Than You’ out now through Heavenly Records. The album is produced by Paul White, celebrated for his work in Golden Rules and with the likes of Charli XCX and Danny Brown.
The album sparks a new era for Baxter Dury, an artist who always beats you to the punchline, answering his own questions and knowing his own identity. I Thought I Was Better Than You introduces a new character, “faux-confrontational”, Baxter calls him. Here, not only is he recounting his childhood, but he’s also reckoning with it. Talking openly about the toxic cocktail of being born into unfortunately fortunate circumstances, with a persuasive surname, but no structure or sense of responsibility with which to reap the rewards of it. “Really, it’s about being trapped in an awkward place between something you’re actually quite good at, and somebody else’s success.” That ‘somebody else’ being his dad, Ian Dury.
Taking influence from American artists like Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator and Vegyn, the combination of beats, spoken word and harmonies on this album have that essence of drowsy, psychedelic west-coast hip-hop. ‘So Much Money’ has a chillout Baleriac beat sound using brass, piano, and classical instruments against the voice of Baxter. ‘Aylesbury Boy’, the lead track off the album is great storytelling, with vivid memories, and loaded lyrics all brought to life with backing vocals from an array of new female voices including Eska Mtungwazi, JGrrey and Madeline Hart. Serving as Baxter’s subconscious, their voices almost dominate the record, occasionally giving Baxter only a few lines. But he is always the main character in his story.
On ‘Crowded Rooms’, a song about being trapped in the small-mindedness of upper-middle-class bohemia, the Lily Allen-esque vocals provide light and ease between Baxter’s acerbic witty raps. ‘Crashes’ is catchy, moves the shoulders, makes the head bounce, with a DIY keyboard sound that fits perfectly for a song about a car crashing outside a restaurant. The album is a kind of extension to Baxter’s 2021 book, Chaise Lounge, and the creative use of a looser inflected hip-hop style has worked as a soundtrack to the book, “It reflects the kind of music I was listening to back then. Me and my mates weren’t indie kids. We were graffiti boys with colourful shoelaces and boomboxes listening to Afrika Bambaataa and smoking loads of weed” explains Baxter.
He originally created rough demos in his living room using barely-functioning machines, then gave them to producer Paul White, who helped them come to life in his living room using some slightly better machines. This lo-fi approach gave Baxter the space to explore more abstract musical ideas and experiment with his story-telling style.
I Thought I Was Better Than You could almost be a concept album, Baxter scratching closer to the surface of himself than ever before, using voice, music and instruments as way of expression, freeing himself of complication through play and creativity, and making a record that sounds good. Baxter Dury, your instinct is always right, don’t change a thing and question everything.
Baxter will be headlining his biggest UK tour to date, finishing off with a headline show at London’s Roundhouse on October 10th 2023. He will also be supporting Pulp on three of their UK shows, including Finsbury Park on July 1st.