Review Summary: After releasing several promising singles and scoring a British number one with 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick', Ian Dury and the Blockheads released their debut album to widespread critical acclaim. Why then, is the album so overlooked?
Ian Dury had to overcome adversity his entire life. Diagnosed with Polio at the age of seven that left him crippled, it seemed that rockstar could be ticked off possible career paths for Dury. But become a star he did, against all odds developing a charismatic and powerful stage persona to complement his cheeky odes to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. After his pub band split up, it seemed that Dury’s luck was finally up. However, Dury had already proved his tenacity, and having honed his trade on the pub circuit for many years, he emerged to the forefront with a new band - The Blockheads.
The factor that will stand out to listeners first of all are the lyrics - they flow wonderfully, and their observational wit gives the album a unique sense of humour. Having said that, there is an equal amount of crude moments, such as the tirade of swearing that opens Plaistow Patricia, or the fart noises and disgusting imagery served up on Blockheads. The album also offers some social commentary, although this is few and far between.
It's far too easy to forget about the Blockheads when talking about Dury. Although Dury's outlandish appearance and larger-than-life persona was inevitably going to garner the most attention, the Blockheads deserve credit for simply laying solid and often fantastic rhythmic foundations for Dury to build upon. Check out how the funky bassline and tinkling pianos on Wake Up and Make Love with Me accentuate the saucy lyrical content, or how the wailing brass band and chugging guitars on Plaistow Patricia allows the band push Dury to the forefront without compromising themselves. As all the best backing bands should do, they play to their frontman's strengths without limiting themselves in any way.
However, the record is not without its flaws. The gratuitous swearing in places will be repellant to some, while many will be put off by Dury's vocal delivery - a thick London accent that ocassionaly slips into deadpan is inevitably not for everyone. He also has a tendency to slip into shouting on some of the rockier numbers, such as Blockheads. Others may be put off by the schmaltzy instrumentation, or the basic structure of the songs - you won't find many time signature changes or lead breaks here - it's straightforward and to the point. It's also fair to say that a portion of the lyrics will be lost on non-British people, and as such they will miss out on what I personally feel is one of the albums strengths.
What we're left with is a record that will always have select appeal. It may have garnered platinum status with just over a million sales, but the record was destined to be a cult favourite, especially outside of Britian. What we're also left with is Dury's legacy - the one record, that above all others, is a testament to his musical achievements. For that reason alone, it deserves to be bought and listened to and then listened to again and forever cherished.
Wake Up and Make Love with Me - an encapsulation of Ian Dury - funny lyrics, and fine funk from his band.
Sweet Gene Vincent - Dury shows his softer side, and contrasts it with some terrace shouting and 'meat & potatoes' rock on this tribute to another overlooked star.
Sex and Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll - if I was to tell you that this song is credited with inventing the phrase, how could you deny it's anything but essential? Luckily, the songs musical worth backs it up.
What a Waste - this single packs in hooks and jazzy grooves, along with an off-kilter synthesiser interlude that marks it out.