By Jono Coote
June 10, 2013
Sometimes in the world of popular music it comes around that an artist, no matter how prolific their output, becomes indelibly associated with one particular release. This is very much the case with Ian Dury and his first release New Boots and Panties!! If you’ve ever picked up one of his Best of… compilations, chances are that it will be made up of three quarters of this album and a handful of singles. However reaching the third and fourth albums of his career, there is very little of the flamboyant music hall punk that made him famous in evidence. Lord Upminster and its follow up 4000 Weeks Holiday have long been out of print rarities, dismissed even by Dury as being disappointing. The recent re-release of both, remastered and with bonus tracks, has given fans the chance to make up their own minds.
The former saw Dury travel to Nassau to record with legendary Jamaican rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and with Chas Jankel, his former musical partner who was conspicuously absent from 1980’s Laughter. The music which was born from these sessions is undoubtedly a product of the ’80s rather than the ’70s, with most of the songs veering between pop-influenced reggae and the electronic synth based sounds of dance music.
This change in direction was in no way out of the blue, with the groundwork laid in many of his songs recorded with the Blockheads, but can still be a challenge to get your head around if you were expecting a raucous punk sing-along a la New Boots. This said there are some underrated Dury classics on the album, the most obvious being ‘Spasticus Autisticus’. A sarcastic reply to those who had deigned 1981 to be the ‘Year of the Disabled’ which Dury found to be patronising, the song is by far the most driving on the album and the one which would be most remembered.
Other highlights include ‘Red (Letter)’, a reggae inflected groove, and bonus track ‘Johnny Funk’ which is reminiscent of some of the Clash’s later experiments in funk and disco. The rest of the album, while perhaps not catching the artist at his most dynamic and hook laden, still acts as a platform for his lyrical dexterity; in fact, the subdued funk often seems to fade into the background, giving the listener the feel almost of a poetry reading and letting Dury’s words shine.
If Lord Upminster was Dury’s ‘holiday album’ as he himself described it, then 4000 Weeks Holiday has its feet firmly set back on UK soil. The music is still far removed from his debut album but this time the groove is noticeably slower and less upbeat. The album’s clear standout is ‘The Man With no Face’, described in the album’s liner notes as “the best ever example of Brit Noir in song”. Dury flatly tells a story of drug running and femme fatales, his monotone declarations sitting over a louche jazz vibe and giving the track a menacingly matter-of-fact air.
The album is perhaps the weaker of the two, but not devoid of good songs; ‘I’m Really Glad You Came’ recaptures some of the better, funk led moments of the previous album, and ‘Percy the Poet’ is a flash of this wordsmith’s peculiar genius. Mention also has to go to ‘Ban the Bomb’, where the acapella nursery rhyme opening creates a darkly humorous juxtaposition with the lyrical content.
These two records have never been overly praised by critics, and are perhaps not the best starting point for someone discovering Dury’s music for the first time. However they are in no way to be dismissed completely – they create a detailed insight into the artist’s sometimes troubled but often genius musical vision. With bonus tracks and an in-depth booklet to go with each album, they are a must for any Ian Dury fan.
Lord Upminster and 4000 Weeks Holiday are out now and available from amazon (here).