“Hey Mummy? Hey Daddy? Who am I? Who am I Mummy? Who am I?”
“I’m definitely a really budget nepo-baby”
Baxter will always beat you to the punchline. He’ll answer his own questions and he’ll volunteer himself as the butt of the joke before you can. His ability to understand people’s perception of him (or who they believe he is) is what has kept his work consistently surprising and inventive for over two decades now. And while it’s his humour that draws you in, it’s his linguistic acrobatics that you stay for – a wild barrage of emotion, colour and off kilter scenes.
Baxter Dury’s latest album, I Thought I Was Better Than You, is a new era for him, and with this new era comes a new character. “Faux-confrontational,” Baxter calls him. Here, not only is he recounting his childhood, but he’s also reckoning with it. Instead of just swinging at his past blindfolded with a baseball bat, he talks 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 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. As one of the album centrepieces – Shadow – agonisingly puts it: “But no one will get over that you’re someone’s son/Even though you want to be like Frank Ocean/But you don’t sound like him, you sound just like Ian.”
The record also serves as a kind of extension to Baxter’s 2021 book, Chaise Lounge, in which he winningly recounted the story of his unique childhood. Not only does he expand the language of the book, using words to paint disconnected images rather than to string sentences (a kind of cockney hieroglyphics), but he often revisits moments within the book. Characters like ‘Tricksy’ re-appear in ‘Aylesbury Boy’ and ‘Pale White Nissan’, for example, but mainly it’s the abstracted tales of a young Baxter, troubled and in trouble, a victim of circumstance, straddling between a world of ‘Fuck you Leon…/ You stole the sunglasses and I got busted’ and a desire for ‘Porridge in the morning and be normal’.
Perhaps most importantly for Baxter, the way the record plays around with a looser hip-hop inflected style means it becomes a soundtrack of the book itself, “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.” This album feels closer to who Baxter is than ever before, rather than who people might expect him to be, or want him to be. The musical shadow of Ian Dury which has loomed over 6 Baxter albums, and over twenty years, finally materialises here. No longer a taboo, Baxter confronts the legacy of his father head on and in doing so exorcises it. The purest and most beautiful way that Baxter achieves this is by having his own son, Kosmo, writing on the record too – safe in the knowledge that he would not be passing on the cultural burden that was passed onto him.