Delusional and hopeful. Loving but injured. Full of vitriol though brimming with forgiveness. Intensely personal yet brutally open. Baxter Dury’s fifth album is both a private meditation into the very real relationship breakdown he experienced over the last year and his most ambitious and biggest work to date. Prince Of Tears is not just a title, it’s a mind-set, a melodrama, a catharsis, a comedy… a record.
“There’s a bit of common heartbreak,” explains Dury of Prince Of Tears’ lineage. “You can have loads of ideas or get all political, but actually there’s nothing more simply damming than heartbreak and nothing else is more life-changing. You could get shot and split up with your girlfriend in the same week and you’d still think about your girlfriend. So that happened, but I used it. Last year was a tough, so I just spent my time concentrating on this, nothing else.”
However, this artistic outpouring did not trigger an outbreak of ‘woe is me’ – well not entirely – as instead Dury channelled his bruised emotions into a series of exaggerated vignettes and misremembered moments peppered with strange characters and unreliable narrators. “The album is full of little fictional snapshots based on actual experiences,” he says of the album’s ten songs. “They’re biographical film soundtracks for an imaginary film about myself, which is fictional. The man singing and speaking it all is unreliable, he can’t see the world properly. It’s massively delusional, but because of that it’s also emotionally true.”
Which brings us to Miami. The album’s opening track is also the portal into Dury’s hazy, anti-wonderland and it comes complete with a guide, “Miami” himself: a foul-mouthed, cocksure ladies man conjured into existence via a heady mix of excess, fatigue and emotional repression.
“The guy in the first first song is a completely delusional person who thinks he’s a gangster,” explains his creator. “But from what he’s saying it’s quickly obvious how flawed that view is. The female vocals always know what’s actually going on though and they aren’t having him. So Miami is actually a metaphor for a dark place. The melody inspired the word and the word is like a character. It’s all gangsterorial dudes. Emotionally blunted, men who are fucked-up. It’s a rant about being fucked-up. The guy is a character, he probably thinks he’s in Miami, he’s thinks he’s got swagger, he thinks he’s someone… he’s not. But when you’re in that place, deep within the heartbreak, deluding yourself comes very easily.”
One thing that is very real things about Miami is the dark soundscape Dury has created for his emotional netherworld. Cool keys, spikey guitars, hypnotic bass and cinematic strings are all invoked to deliver the songwriter’s most realised musical vision yet. The natty charm of Dury’s other records – like his debut Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift or the acclaimed Happy Soup – hasn’t been lost, but by collaborating with a full band, producer Ash Workman (Metronomy, Christine & The Queens) and an orchestra, that spirit soars. “I embedded the strings in as a theme very early on, so it’s always been a part of this record,” explains Dury of his widening of the musical horizons. “Recording the strings was the best day of my life. I turned my little provincial ideas into Star Wars! Fucking hell! When you’ve got 30 human beings playing your melodies, you get drunk on the idea of all these people supporting your simple thing. That’s all power is: it’s a simple idea supported by a lot of people. So when you put all that into your music you think let’s crush it.”
Deftly interlaced within Dury’s existing musical DNA, this expanded spectrum ensures that from the dark, nocturnal openings, Prince Of Tears spreads to encompass a vast emotional array.
There’s the pure rage of Letter Bomb and the fearful remorse of Oi (“It’s about someone who broke my nose at school. I tried to fight him once, but he put me away like a deckchair, he collapsed me in six seconds which was quite a surprise as I thought I was going to have him…”) which sit alongside some truly tender scenes.
“The song August is about August last year. That was just the most painful month I’ve ever been through,” explains Dury of one of the record’s most touching tracks. “I almost flooded my flat with tears. I got the Fire Brigade round to put out sandbanks around my emotions.” Suburban soul song and title track, Prince Of Tears, adds an externalised, wry assessment of this cracked noble heart, (“It’s about lonely men. It’s a subject I like! Men who grab too too quickly and then live in the emotional desert with just an iPad and no one to talk to.”) and then there’s a beautiful song called Mungo… “Except I sing about a Margot…,” clarifies Dury. “It’s definitely about a girl called Margot. To be honest some of the lyrics are deeply cheesy, but my kind of Mockney-isms allow a level of sentiment that might ruin someone else’s record. It’s quite fun to go into that emotion-drenched world with my pass.”
That pass also allowed Dury to recruit several vocal collaborators into the Prince Of Tears’ retinue, illuminating some of the album’s dark corners. Long-term foil Madelaine Hart returns to provide her melancholic yet knowing backing vocals to several songs, Rose Elinor Dougall adds a sinister edge to Porcelain, while Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson enthusiastically chimes in on Almond Milk. “It was fantastic to do that,” says the ’Mods’ MC of working with Dury. “I’m really chuffed I did something great with someone I’m influenced by.”
And chuffed is how Dury feels – perhaps surprisingly – about this album. “It was really fun to make – except for the pain I had to go through to inspire it,” he grins. “But I really like this record. My old man once said of a friend of mine: ‘Your friend has got pronoia. It’s the opposite of paranoia, it’s when you suffer from thinking everything is too brilliant.’ Well I’ve got a nice case of pronoia at the moment.” So, yeah… your heart hurts, but it is 3am so the sun will be up soon… Behold the Prince Of Tears.
The hot summer of ’17