“I’m not your fucking friend,” growls Baxter Dury by way of introduction to his extremely moody yet highly groovy sixth album. Well, it’s nice to see you again too, Baxter. With a voice that’s become one of the most distinctive in contemporary British oddball-pop, thanks to its immediate summoning of moderately priced red wine and late, late nights – not to mention Baxter’s on-going refusal to actually sing – he cooly leans into the mean synths of ‘I’m Not Your Dog’ like a mucky panther.
Despite a prowling, lascivious similarity to Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg’s 1980s Casio keyboard phases, the song tackles a very modern problem: the obsession with social media. “Some people like to show / Some people like to watch / And I watch a bit too much / But you show too much,” he grunts while poring over his screen, too dazed to continue but too engrossed to stop.
This isn’t the only time he wails at the endless scroll of modern life. On the pensive ‘Carla’s Got A Boyfriend’ he discovers, thanks to his phone, that an ex is seeing someone new: “I spotted him on Instagram / Followed him about for a bit.”
On ‘The Night Chancers’, 48-year-old Baxter sees a darkness. Life is bleak. People are lame. You can’t rely on anyone. Not even yourself. Stranded after a one-night stand on the title track, he finds himself kicking around a lavish hotel room with only his intrusive thoughts for company, his Estuary chirrup sounding more than ever like Mick Jagger doing spoken-word poetry.
There’s more grubby glamour in ‘Sleep People’, which picks apart a gilded world that Baxter has somehow found himself on the fringes of, by dint of his own celebrity – that of the schmoozing and boozing fashion set. “There’s free drinks for the pencil thin…,” he shrugs over hypnotic loungecore and sinister strings, before a wailing, wheezing saxophone show us what Tom Waits might have sounded like if he’d swapped the sordid strip clubs of East Hollywood for the Groucho Club.
Cheeriness is here too though – as is actual proper singing! – even if only in small doses. The dreamily soft ‘Daylight’ sees Baxter mooning over a special someone, as he quietly croons, “You were so lovely / Standing in the driveway / With your eyes flickering in the wind” with the able assistance of his choir of backing vocalists. But a happy ending evades him. “You went missing into the night time / And I knew that was it forever.” Better luck next time, Baxter?
Release date: March 20
Record label: Rough Trade