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Class ?

Main Category: Smart Pop
Also applicable: Punk/Grunge, Dance Pop
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties



Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of an Ian Dury fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Ian Dury fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1977
Overall rating = 12

Cockney + punk/disco/boogie = a unique'n'endearing experience.


Track listing: 1) Wake Up And Make Love With Me; 2) Sweet Gene Vincent; 3) I'm Partial To Your Abracadabra; 4) My Old Man; 5) Billericay Dickie; 6) Clever Trever; 7) If I Was With A Woman; 8) Blockheads; 9) Plaistow Patricia; 10) Blackmail Man; [BONUS TRACK:] 11) Sex And Drugs And Rock'n'Roll.

Ian Dury's solo debut album is one of those rare treasures, the unjustly forgotten New Wave classic that's a pleasure to re-discover and a sadness to contemplate in the view of its being so drastically underrated at present. It was REALLY huge in the UK upon release, and it fully earned to, but, of course, it was very deeply bound to its epoch and location, kinda like Dire Straits' debut the following year, so it's no surprise it made little impact outside the UK back then and isn't supposed to make any impact now, although it was a really nice gesture on the part of several pop stars to come together upon Dury's untimely decease in 2000 and record a 'tribute' album called Brand New Boots And Panties, which consisted entirely of this album's tracks recorded by the Blockheads and sung by a cast of thousands including Sinead O'Connor and even Paul McCartney. Not sure if it'll help, though.

Dury doesn't invent any new sounds on this album or push rock music into a new direction. What he does is pretty simple: he takes advantage of all the new music forms that had emerged since his youth, brings out the best qualities in them, and merges them with the unbeatable charm of his own voice and delivery. Oh, and the lyrics, of course. This sounds vague on paper, but in reality it makes up for one of the, if not the most intimate and personal record to come out of the entire late Seventies movement: as much as I like Elvis Costello, he doesn't possess the subtle magic of Dury's voice at its best. He gets in this gruff, wheezy, Cockney accent that he utilizes in an almost robotic way, but fact is, it is this grumbly robotic delivery that really hypnotizes so much: it's superficially cold and emotionless, but deep inside you know he feels all these things and actually shares them with you as if he were your very best friend. Totally unbeatable.

It all comes together on the very first track, 'Wake Up And Make Love With Me', which is simply one of the best disco songs ever written. It doesn't have the memorable riff of 'Miss You', nor does it sound all whizzed-up and win over just by being so over-the-top like 'Stayin' Alive'. It just rolls along, over perfect production, magnificent atmospheric keyboard effects from Chas Jankel, and does nothing but roll along. But those funny sexist lyrics and the cold, self-assured and yet strangely friendly tone of Ian is able to transform it from a nice atmospheric landscape into a classic. With these vocals, it's not just background music for relaxing or for dancing - it's a bizarre statement on the nature of love, to say the least.

More or less the same goes for everything else on here. One thing I should add is the amazing diversity of the album - after all, not many acts at the time were able to start a record on an authentic disco note ('Wake Up...') and bring it to a close with a rip-roaring two-minute explosion of punkish energy ('Blackmail Man'); you couldn't believe that the wild bellowing singer on that song is the same frigid robotic guy who sings on 'Wake Up', and yet both tracks are quite intimate in the same near-magical way. Apart from that, you get Fifties' tributes ('Sweet Gene Vincent'), music-hall pop ('Billericay Dickie'), pure rock'n'roll ('Blockheads'), power pop ('I'm Partial To Your Abracadabra')... few songs on here really sound the same, except for the all-unifying force of That Voice, of course.

Lyrically, the album mainly deals with social portraying and love thematics, but even in those cases when it's hard to make out the lyrics (God bless me, I still can't make out what he's singing about on 'Blackmail Man'! Joe Strummer, rest in peace), the atmosphere is always intact... you know how it goes, many people over the world love Dylan even if they don't speak a word of English, just because he sounds phenomenal. Is Ian Dury the Dylan of New Wave? Well, no, that'd probably still be Costello, but Ian comes very close as second best.

Anyway, highlights on this album include... well, include at least half of the songs. 'Sweet Gene Vincent' begins as a lamentative ballad, then suddenly switches gears and becomes a dazzling piano rocker. 'Billericay Dickie', who is 'doing very well' has an irresistable music-hall stomp. 'I'm Partial To Your Abracadabra' has a pretty generic melody, but the lyrical/vocalic impression, the stuttering/muttering confession, hardly has any equivalents. 'My Old Man' is moving and tear-inducing. And 'Clever Trever' has the most convoluted, yet also the most well-constructed vocal melody, with Ian doing some rap that turns out not to be rap... heck, it's impossible to describe these albums. Why don't you just stop reading this hogwash, I can't do the album justice. I probably could express myself better, but that would require seven extra hours of thought and Roget' Thesaurus. So why should I waste my time when I could spend it in a more positive way? Like, for instance, hooking up to the Net and keep reloading my message board for seven hours? In the meantime, you could just try and get ahold of New Boots And Panties - not an easy thing to do, as, for the most part, Ian Dury is now only available in compilations.

Which also make sense, as it's by pure chance that my CD edition of the album adds as a bonus track the classic Dury single 'Sex & Drugs & Rock'n'Roll', maybe his single best-known song, if only for its title. It's a great track, indeed, and has nothing to do with sex & drugs & rock'n'roll but rather with condemning the phoneyness of these long-commercialized values, plus a great disco beat and a real nice riff in the chorus.

Oh! And before we go, might I also mention the excellent playing. The rhythm section kicks ass, Geoff Castle uses the Moog in a cool moody way, but, of course, the main star here is Chas Jankel, who plays most of the guitars and keyboards and also collaborates with Dury on most of the tracks. He is obviously the main force behind the actual music, and the music gotta be heard. Like I said, it's not particularly memorable, but it just sounds so darn tasteful and effective. Kinda like the arrangements of Steely Dan - nothing to write home about because you wouldn't know what to write, but a total gas while it's buzzing in your ears.



(released by: IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS)

Year Of Release: 1979
Overall rating = 11

Less diverse than the previous effort and a bit less energetic, but equally witty.

Best song: QUIET

Track listing: 1) Inbetweenies; 2) Quiet; 3) Don't Ask; 4) Sink My Boats; 5) Waiting For We Taxi; 6) This Is What You Find; 7) Uneasy Sunny Day Hotsy Totsy; 8) Mischief; 9) Dance Of The Screamer; 10) Lullaby For Francies; [BONUS TRACK:] 11) Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

The first album that's credited to "Ian Dury & The Blockheads", although you wouldn't really know the difference - the production and playing are just as brilliant as on the previous release, but hardly any better. There are, however, major changes in stylistics: all elements of 'punk' are completely thrown out, replaced by a steady, unchanging disco rhythm on most of the tracks, with the exception of the reggae 'Lullaby For Francies' and a couple slower ones. This certainly can give you a headache if you're sceptical towards disco. However, it has long since been proven that disco in its pure essence is not any worse than any other existent genre of music that is, in any possible way, 'formulaic' - the problem is to use disco creatively. And on the very aptly titled Do It Yourself, Dury certainly uses disco in a more creative manner than just about anybody. Sure, the Stones and ELO and Macca and many others did a few creative tricks with disco, but this is an album almost entirely built on the disco groove, and it's a real wonder that it never wears you out.

As on the previous album, no player overshadows any other - this is a true band effort as far as the music is concerned, even if the musical backbone is still regularly provided by Jankel. I couldn't even notice any prominent guitar solos or, in fact, any solos at all, as there doesn't seem to be a point anywhere on the album where one instrument is mixed higher than at least one or two others. That's a matter of principle, and I respect it, although my conservative ears do lust for at leas a little bit of a solo something sometimes. But then again, what do I want from Ian? He's dead anyway.

The important thing is - these songs are way cool. Not a lot of explicit hooks along the way, but each track has a bunch of implicit ones, I mean, at least a little bit of something to trigger a little bit of something in a little bit of somebody. Of course, Dury's vocals and lyrics are still the main attraction - his little unpretentious character portraits are funny, witty, and almost Dylanish in some ways, only taken from a purely British point of view. I won't give out any particular examples because most of the time I can't figure out exactly what the guy's singing about (have to take some Cockney lessons these days for sure), and Dury's lyrics are extremely hard to come by in written form, but take my word for it - much of this stuff rules from a lyrical/vocal delivery aspect.

And, of course, the album requires repeated listenings, each of which brings out a previously unremarkable subtle detail that becomes totally engaging and endearing in the blink of an eye. 'Inbetweenies', for instance, is bouncier than 'Billericay Dickie', but similar to the song in its 'innocent dumbness' - the main keyboard/bass riff is simplistic and almost generic, but coupled with Dury's "simpleton" delivery, becomes genius. 'Quiet' is my favourite on here, though, as I would be hard pressed to come up with another example of a song whose excellence is guaranteed by nothing other than a creative use of one single English word. (However, note also John Turnbull's magnificent understated electric licks in the background).

A darker and denser sound can be found on 'Waiting For We Taxi', a near-instrumental funky workout based on unexpected tempo changes and stop-and-start structures as Dury chants 'waiting for we taxi, each taxi never come' (or was that 'which'?). A most strange and unpredictable tune, that one. You make your own little interpretation, I'll just take it as representing one of those little life mysteries we never care about all that much. If that sentence didn't make sense, it's because I'm reviewing an Ian Dury album, not a Bee Gees one. A particular highlight, too, is 'Uneasy Sunny Day Hotsy Totsy', which goes from a fast bouncy popster into one of those music-hall-infested choruses and back, with distinct near-rapping vocals from Ian.

As the album progresses, one gets the feeling that Ian is slowly getting more and more mysterious and ominous, culminating in the nearly seven-minute 'Dance Of The Screamer', which is exactly how it bills it - it's disco dance music, and there are screams for sure. 'So I'm screaming, just for you, WAAAAAAAH, from the lost place in the cue, WAH-WAH-WAH', proclaims Mr Dury at the very beginning, and then begins unraveling the story of the 'screamer's dance' which is really desperate and really depressing. Which brings me to my final observation: very rarely has disco been employed for condoning negative emotions - I mean, you can point out that the lyrics to 'Stayin' Alive' are desperate and world-fearin' all right, but who the frig cares about the lyrics to 'Stayin' Alive'? It's the last thing we think of when we discuss that number. 'Dance Of The Screamer' and certain other songs on here really exploit disco from its darker side, which isn't always such a pretty sight to see, but then again, music isn't always supposed to be pretty.

Fortunately, the album ends on a somewhat more soothing note - with the reggae excourse 'Lullaby For Francies', which is somewhere halfway between boring and hypnotizing, probably both at the same time, and has a REALLY long fadeout which will give you full possibility to evaluate Turnball's experienced reggae guitar technique. Evaluated it? Then off we go into the bonus track on my CD edition, Dury's 1979 hit single 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick', completely devoid of that 'experimental darkness', but containing one of the best dance grooves he ever recorded and a really really memorable refrain in 'HIT... meeeeeEEEE!' Say, it's hard to give a written Dury impersonation. Guess you'll just have to find this album, nothing else to do.

Which reminds me - I gave it one point less than New Boots because it's less diverse and nothing here matches the punch of 'Wake Up And Make Love With Me', but, well, it's less diverse and has no instantly hittin' hooks. SO WHAT? AM I SUPPOSED TO BADMOUTH AN ALBUM FOR NOT CONTAINING ANY OBVIOUS HOOKS? I'M SUPPOSED TO BE A FRIGGIN' OPEN-MINDED REVIEWER!



(released by: IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS)

Year Of Release: 1980
Overall rating = 11

Less disco, more noise! More GOOD noise, the eccentric Cockney one, that is.


Track listing: 1) Superman's Big Sister; 2) Pardon; 3) Delusions Of Grandeur; 4) Yes & No (Paula); 5) Dance Of The Crackpots; 6) Over The Points; 7) Take Your Elbow Out Of The Soup You're Sitting On The Chicken; 8) Uncoolohol; 9) Hey Hey Take Me Away; 10) Manic Depression; 11) Oh Mr Peanut; 12) Fucking Ada; [BONUS TRACK:] 13) Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3).

I really have no idea why I like this guy so much. By the time of his third album, he practically ceases to make any sense at all. His eccentricity and occasionally schizophrenic musical behaviour are getting dangerously out of hand. The record ends with a song boldly entitled 'Fucking Ada', and you know how it goes? It's a very stern-sounding, very emotionally tense waltz where Ian sings with such a painfully stressed and shaking voice you almost feel bad for him and his psyche. Then as we get closer to the chorus, the melody rises in climactic tension, the violins and organs soar into the sky, Ian hits his most aggressive notes... and the song is resolved! With a singalong chorus of drunk, totally boozed out voices going "FUCKING AAAA-DA FUCKING AAAAA-DA FUCKING AAAA-DA" as if they were singing happy birthday to you or something. Nice brass section, too. This is supposed to be cool?

In an unbelievable way, it is. Granted, three minutes of "fucking Ada!" in a row is a bit too much, but the song is supposed to be offensive, and if you say the four letter word twice, you're probably twice as offensive, and so on and so on. Laughter in general is supposed to be, well, taken with laughter, and little else. Take Ian's cockney idiolect, add up all the musical styles in his backlog, throw in a pinch of shock values and general offensiveness, and you got the formula - you don't even need to spice it up with a relevant social message. In a certain sense, this is Dury's Blonde On Blonde: a musically perfected and refined variation on the 'older' style, but very much 'artsy for art's sake'. Which is all right by me.

Perhaps an even better example than 'Fucking Ada' is the bonus track to the album, the concurrent single 'Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part Three)' which is among the best pieces of music Ian ever performed. A glossy, but never sloppy, mix of rock'n'roll, funk, robotic dance music and even hip-hop, it really puts you in a trance and you don't even know why. Why is it 'Part Three'? What are the 'reasons to be cheerful'? The lyrics are a messy stream-of-conscience outburst of uncoherent imagery a la 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', but without any particular emotional emphasis either. Why are the backing vocals singing 'why don't you get back into bed? Why don't you get back into bed?' Who can tell? But the guitars are jerky and smart in a David Byrne way, the unnerving intonation of Ian is admirable, the sax/guitar interplay in the instrumental section is terrific, and the groove is so impenetrable it draws you in with its impenetrability alone. Like 'Knots' by Gentle Giant - you have not the least idea why a song like that could be pleasing, but just because it's so weird in its unique way, you fall for it anyway. Except that 'Reasons To Be Cheerful' is also catchy and danceable.

As for the actual album material, most of the songs here are attractive in their own ways. 'Superman's Big Sister' is perhaps the most well-known one, not that you'd ever hear it on the radio, of course, but it would well deserve to. The mild pub-rock atmosphere is crossed with a swooping orchestral arrangement and idiotic sounding Dury vocals as he keeps bragging about some of his personal relation experiences: "Till I met her, I thought I knew the answers/I thought a bit of treatment was all a body needs...". Sweet ELO-ish orchestra and sleazy (but witty) lyrics - the perfect Ian Dury opposition.

You should definitely hear this album. You should hear Ian take such an ordinary twist of phrase as 'pardon... oh?' and build up an entire chorus on that expression, again proving his "little man's virtues extoller" status ('Pardon'). You should hear his confused, but charming monolog on 'Yes And No (Paula)' - it's really wonderful how tight the Blockheads are playing. If you think really hard about it, there's really no need for the Blockheads to be playing so tight: they're just a back-up band anyway to all of Ian's fantasies and roleplayings. But if you think even harder, that's a major part of the charm. That gives the band its true uniqueness. Whatever be, all the playing must be professional. It's part of the game.

I'll be damned if your foot doesn't start tap-tap-tapping along to 'Dance Of The Crackpots', thus. And what about 'Take Your Elbow Out Of The Soup (You're Sitting On The Chicken)'? A dangerous menacing rocker in form and an absurdist celebration in essence? Or the oh so pretty ballad 'Manic Depression' (nothing to do with the Jimi Hendrix song of the same name, although the introduction, with heavenly echoey guitars and wimpy flutes, does uncannily remind me of some of Jimi's psychedelic extravaganzas)? And the 'Fucking Ada' climax?

Whatever the critics might say, Dury is still pretty much at the peak of his game here; and his gradual moving away from disco is a good thing, because he's equally good at taking other genres - from barroom boogie to country waltzing - and adapting them to his innocent Cockney personality. There might be a couple blunders on here anyway ('Oh Mr Peanut' is pretty worthless, in particular), but filler has always been a (albeit minor) problem for Ian, so that's nothing new to our ears. Oh yeah, this is also the first Blockheads album without Jankel, and the first to exploit the talents of Dr Feelgood on guitar. So much for trivia, now start digging out the record itself.


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