Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ian Dury & the Blockheads

  • Do It Yourself [Stiff/Epic, 1979] B
  • Laughter [Stiff/Epic, 1980] B+
  • Juke Box Dury [Stiff, 1981] A
  • Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll [Demon, 1987] A
  • Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll: The Best of Ian Dury and the Blockheads [Rhino, 1992] A
  • Mr. Love Pants [Ronnie Harris, 1998] ***
  • Live!: All the Best, Mate . . . [Music Club, 2000] ***

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Do It Yourself [Stiff/Epic, 1979]
Dury's idiomatic literacy is a continuing pleasure, but only on "Quiet" (to his kids) and maybe "This Is What We Find" (comedic-philosophical) is it enough, because the music tries too bleeding hard to be ingratiating. The man is supposed to be too English for us colonials, but I feel a lot more at home with the musichall rock of New Boots and Panties!! than with the fusoid pop internationalism of Chaz Jankel's arrangements here--jazz per Ramsey Lewis, reggae per Byron Lee, disco per Arthur Murray. B

Laughter [Stiff/Epic, 1980]
I feel like a stick-in-the-mud pointing this out, but he could do with more tunes and less talkover. Honorable as it is to devote an entire album to crackpots and the vulgar tongue--only a prig could complain about a lyric like "You call me a ninny/You're a stupid twat"--the invective does tend to blur into itself. "Superman's Big Sister" having somehow failed to storm the charts Stateside, I don't have much hope for its only competition melodywise, string section notwithstanding. "Fucking Ada," it's called. B+

Juke Box Dury [Stiff, 1981]
Dury has had great taste in musicians since pub-rock, and he's bent to dance-music convention without betraying sweet Gene Vincent. But this compilation of singles proves quite definitively that his genius is for lyrics. His literacy seems as natural as his command of slang, and he rhymes like some cross between Chaucer and Ogden Nash. What's more, he has something to say--his slightly salacious humanism is the perfect match for his diction. A

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll [Demon, 1987]
Presumably, this substitutes "Superman's Big Sister" and "You're More Than Fair" for Juke Box Dury's "Wake Up and Make Love With Me" and "Sweet Gene Vincent" because the latter are available on New Boots and Panties!!, his second-best LP, while the former are rare items as well as genuine singles. They ain't as good, though, and if they're why Demon reprogrammed a perfect record, it is to weep. I even prefer the earlier title--if a change was required, give me Reasons To Be Cheerful, not a slogan more misused than born-in-the-U.S.A. But you can't buy Juke Box Dury any more, and that's not Demon's fault. The millions who foolishly passed it by should lay down their inflation-wracked dollars or pounds for this reasonable facsimile. A

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll: The Best of Ian Dury and the Blockheads [Rhino, 1992]
I'm not claiming I've heard or even twigged all this world-class lyricist's best-of CDs. More than I can catalogue recycle "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll," "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick," and a bunch of lesser-known songs that are better than either. But though the mastering could be brighter on this elderly 18-tracker, there are plenty of them around used and its selection is clearly superior to that of the closest competitor I've found, Great American Music's stupidly entitled 2007 The Best of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. The only hands-down masterpieces the Rhino lacks from that one are "My Old Man" and the late "Bill Haley's Last Words," and it adds four others, including "You're More Than Fair," which is surely the only great song to include both the word "clitoris" and the word "toilet" and probably the finest to include either. Tender or crass, loud or quiet, loungy or recitative, cheerleader for his world-class idols or adept of local accents I know nothing more about, he was music-hall's great inheritor. Is there a Noel Coward or, I don't know, George Formby collection to compare? One as serious and as funny? I doubt it. A

Mr. Love Pants [Ronnie Harris, 1998]
Mr. Smarty Pants mocks meritocracy and enjoys his body ("Jack Shit George," "Geraldine"). ***

Live!: All the Best, Mate . . . [Music Club, 2000]
December 1990-bloody lively for an oldies reunion ("Billericay Dickie," "Blockheads"). ***