Clever, witty, dreary; Baxter Dury is all of these things, but perhaps the most apt word to describe his music and career to date is underrated. Despite critical acclaim, for the most part the dry Londoner’s three previous albums – laden with the kind of keen-eyed witticisms and anecdotes that made Damon Albarn a household name – have failed to capture the attention of the public at large. This is despite the fact that Dury’s languid observations are often more telling and personal than Albarn’s, though perhaps that’s the problem. Perhaps if Dury would just write a happy song the world would open its ears. But why should he change? His misery is marvellous, and if the world was ready for Essex Dogs then surely it should have been ready for Francesca’s Party.
2011’s ‘Happy Soup’ was a nonchalant opus of heartbreak, with Dury presenting himself as a man who had bottled his feelings up for the preceding six years since his album ‘Floor Show’ was released. All that, only for them to explode like a pressure cooker with lyrics inked by heartstrings which have gazed on both sides of infidelity. Though the names and places have changed, seemingly nothing much else has vis-à-vis Dury’s lyrical modus operandi in the three years since ‘Happy Soup’ was released. ‘It’s A Pleasure’ sees Dury once again putting all his dirty laundry in song and it doesn’t take long for the first doozy to arrive – “Ferrero Rocher prostitutes/ Primark débutantes in boots/ Crisis in this male midriff/ Lost within these soiled wet lips.”
However, one change that’s instantly audible on ‘It’s A Pleasure’ is the introduction of ‘80s synth pop influences to Dury’s musical palette on opening track Pleasure. It’s a move which surprisingly suits Dury’s couldn’t-be-arsed vocal delivery, and opens up valuable space throughout the album for the sweet summery vocals of We Were Evergreen’s Fabienne Debarre to attempt to bring happiness to the soundscape, and goes some way towards de-drearying Dury. Perhaps this is what it would have sounded like if The Human League played post punk.
Other Men’s Girls is a prime example of this interplay, with throwaway lyrics like “And I don’t wear makeup” set against the crusty imagery and fatalism of bedsit Britannia – “Cast in Cheap cloth that’s who we are.” Whispered is the epoch of the synth rock mixture, with funky post punk riffs successfully melding with European club culture and Debarre taking over midway to complete the transformation with a rush of euphoria as the track comes up – but not before Dury takes the opportunity to bark like a dog pre-empting the rush.
‘It’s A Pleasure’s’ sub 35-minute length ensures that Baxter Dury doesn’t have the chance to outstay his welcome. It’s another successful day for truth, misery, self-annihilation and procrastination.