Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ian Dury [extended]

  • New Boots and Panties!! [Stiff, 1978] A-
  • Do It Yourself [Stiff/Epic, 1979] B
  • Laughter [Stiff/Epic, 1980] B+
  • Juke Box Dury [Stiff, 1981] A
  • Lord Upminster [Polydor, 1981] B-
  • 4000 Weeks Holiday [Polydor, 1984] B+
  • 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:

New Boots and Panties!! [Stiff, 1978]
Dury is a pub rock survivor, as tough and homely as a dandelion, as English as music halls, billingsgate, and Gene Vincent. The tenacious wit and accuracy of his lyrics betray how uncommon he believes his blockheaded protagonists really are, and his music rocks out in the traditional blues-based grooves without kissing the past's ass. Tender, furious, sexy, eccentric, surprising. A-

Ian Dury & the Blockheads: 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

Ian Dury & the Blockheads: 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+

Ian Dury & the Blockheads: 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

Lord Upminster [Polydor, 1981]
"Spasticus Autisticus" is every bit as startling as Dury must have hoped after Laughter got lost in the hustle, but on the rest of his major-label move he sounds like a retired ad man. I suppose the idea is to let the riddims of Steve Stanley, Chaz Jankel, and Sly & Robbie turn jingles into rallying cries, but how much human kindness can you sell with slogans like "escape is a jape"? B-

Ian Dury and the Music Students: 4000 Weeks Holiday [Polydor, 1984]
Bowie does a song about international pop star Andy Warhol; more deeply cultured and deeply Brit, Dury does one for London pop visionary Peter Blake. His culture broad, informed, and utterly unhierarchical, his Britness rooted rather than snobbish or xenophobic, Dury has tended toward rock and roll music hall, but with the U.S. audience out of reach his music is drifting toward Europop cabaret, and sometimes his determination to ennoble the cliché seems a bit arch: "I like you very much" is preceded by a series of tropes that could have come out of a bad children's book and probably did. But on the B he toughens up, from "Percy the Poet" who's smarter than Pinter to "The Man With No Face" and his life's supply of dope. Internationalists will want to hear it. B+

Ian Dury & the Blockheads: 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

Ian Dury & the Blockheads: 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

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

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