This third record from Baxter Dury comes, for me, burdened with the weight of his two previous records, each dark, grimy and beautiful, it’s been a long six years since his last album and my expectations for his new LP were high.
Opening with the lively two-tone step of Isabel things are instantly very different to what has gone before. The production is spacious and clipped, Baxter’s delivery is distinctive yet snippy, barking out his familiar brand of epithets but with a bite rather than his usual mellow drone. Whilst imagery remains unchanged (‘She could be in her marigolds/Dancing on her patio’) there’s a stangely subdued sense of elation to this song that sits in strong contrast to the swampy, observations of before.
This continues into the single Claire, a song that I remember from early demos posted on Baxter’s Myspace, now squeaky and cheeky. Depsite toe-tapping drums it’s Leak At The Disco that first recalls the Baxter of old, a melancholy keyboard line, with Baxter’s spoken word off-set by Madelaine Hart’s sweet vocal breathy and comforting on the chorus; ‘Love has all but broken you/But Katie you’ve lost your smile.’ Perhaps it was because the album was partially recorded in Ibiza that the tracks have a bleached out, sunny quality, Afternoon has a distinctively rambling, laidback feel, ‘Ba ba baaa’ backing vocals, handclaps, fizzy synths and Baxter’s voice creakily wondering ‘Did it matter to you?’ over burbling, buoyant bass.
The languid and ornate sounding title track is something of a lull at the album’s mid-point, wandering imagery and dry backing vocals intoning the title, however it lacks the mundane familiarity of plenty of Baxter’s other observations. It’s followed by the joyful little frippery of Trellic, Mike Moore’s guitar line sun-kissed and alive.
Usually with Baxter’s work it’s only really necessary to mention his father by way of context, yes, there have always been vocal tics that belie their relationship, but with Picnic On The Edge Baxter gets as close as he ever has to his dad’s distinctive style. It’s a juddering, stuttering number with the title croaked over and over on the choruses, and could easily be slipped into a Blockheads setlist and please the fans.
Hotel In Brixton has a wonderfully sniffy synth line, shuffling awkwardly around like a child trying to dance in a suit two sizes too big. It’s propelled by Madelaine’s slumberous and romantic vocals, dappled in a number of shades and Baxter cooing alongside her during the choruses. There’s a similarly pleasant lazy quality to the crumpled guitars of The Sun, which marries sing-a-long refrains and Baxter’s squawking laughter for an intriguingly daffy mix. The record draws to a close with Trophies, another song that cropped up on Baxter’s MySpace in an early version many years ago, it retains the same sense of shut-in despondency that the scratchy work-in-progress had, but enlivened by the occasional twinkle of bells and its message of ‘You must wake up and embrace today’ shines through all the brighter.
Happy Soup is a peculiar and intriguing album, its stripped bare, with subtle and simple arrangments that sound almost barren in comparison to Baxter’s previous two records. But it’s a strange and compelling album that is ultimately as uplifting and optimistic as it is mellow and downbeat.