When was the last time you were knocked out by a record on first listen? It happens less and less frequently for me, but I’m happy to report just such an occurance this weekend upon listening to Happy Soup, Baxter Dury‘s just-released third album.
I’ve been aware of Baxter Dury — yes, son of Blockheads frontman Ian Dury who put Baxter on the cover of his 1977 classic New Boots and Panties — since his 2005’s Floor Show, whose single “Francesca’s Parties” got a fair amount of play on BBC 6Music at the time. That record’s heavy subject matter was matched by some sonic psychedelic sludge nearly as thick as Dury’s Cockney mumble singing style.
Things seem to have brightened for Baxter since then, at least a little, and he’s all the better for it. The record sounds great. The spare arrangements and production style recalls early new wave/post punk or the vibe of old Studio One 45s, which gives upbeat tracks like first single “Claire,” ska-tinged album opener “Isabel” and the bouncy, infectious “Trellic” real snap. And on more melancholic numbers (“The Sun,” “Hotel in Brixton”), there’s a dreamy warmth. Like his father, Dury is a keen observer and has a way with words — even if they tend to get stuck in his mouth. But that too is part of his charm.
What really makes Happy Soup special, I think, is collaborator Madelaine Hart, whose presence on Happy Soup is so pronounced the album really could’ve been credited to the both of them. Her vocals — vulnerable but clear, not unlike Dolly Mixture’s Debsy Wykes or Electrelane’s Verity Susman — are a perfect counterpoint to Dury’s baritone. Comparisons to Gainsbourg/Birkin (especially on the Air-ish title track) or Hazlewood/Sinatra are not inappropriate. Hart also allows for a he-said-she-said element on the album, which Dury has described as a “candid portrait of romantic failures.” And in that, Happy Soup is a rousing success.
You gotta buy the import of Happy Soup at this point, no American release as of yet. Also, CD only which is curious. An album this warm screams for vinyl.
Click through for the charming, New Wave-inspired video for “Claire” and an entertaining promo video of the album’s creation.