Sunday, 16 September 2007
He couldn't have timed it better. The 'Pete Doherty gets it together' album arrives just as his position as Britain's favourite pop fuck-up has been definitively usurped by Amy Winehouse. This means that the second Babyshambles album, the oddly named Shotter's Nation, gets to our ears as an actual piece of music and carrying less media baggage than it would have at any time in the past three years.
Not that it is baggage-free. Shotter's Nation is about smack, crack, Kate Moss, tabloid infamy, junkies and their flunkies, and what we think we know about Peter Doherty, as it has to be. It's also about love, loss, the British urban landscape, laughing at yourself, great guitars, exciting chord changes, tight rhythms, the Stones-Who-Kinks-(Small) Faces-Clash-Jam-Smiths-Happy Mondays-Stone Roses-Oasis-Blur history of Britrock, rich, simple production, songs with layers, a really good band and a singer who has relocated his voice.
For reasons why Babyshambles have snapped dramatically into focus, after the almost unlistenable chaos of 2005's Down in Albion debut, juggle any one or more of these: Pete's straightened up; or the pain of the break with Moss has woken him up; or the band - that would be the excellent Mick Whitnall (guitar), Drew McConnell (bass) and Adam Ficek (drums) - got fed up with being Sideshow Pete's hired goons and kicked his arse until he stopped stumbling into the drum kit and started singing in tune. Or Pete needs a strong, relatively straight musical foil and, in replacing guitarist Patrick Walden, Whitnall has actually replaced Carl Barat of the Libertines. Or new producer Stephen Street, best known for his work with Morrissey and Blur, won't allow Doherty to indulge himself and has whipped the boy into shape. Or corporations like EMI don't sign former Rough Trade indie icons, even infamous tabloid mainstays, if they're just going to twat about. All of the above probably played a part, and this sounds like a band's first album for a major label.
As for that baggage, autobiographical/confessional stand-out lyrics include 'You fell in love and carried her over the threshold, thinking/ She's far too good looking to do the cooking' ('Baddie's Boogie'); 'Writing songs is just a game/ I'm getting good at cheating at' ('You Talk'); 'She won't take you back/ Said too much, been too unkind/ Get up off your back/ Stop smoking that/ Change your life, she just might change her mind' ('Lost Art of Murder', which features folk great Bert Jansch on guitar). Best of all, in this respect at least, is 'There She Goes' which blatantly steals from the Cure's 'Lovecats' yet also fulfils the title's moral obligation to sound a bit like the La's, and hits us with detail both provocative and poignant: 'From your bag/ You pulled out more skag than I'd ever seen/ No, how could I let go?/ Since I caught a glimpse of your white plimsolls/ Twisting and turning to northern soul'. Maybe how Pete met Kate, or maybe not. But the other twist it exemplifies is that the melodies, musicianship and poetry are so strong throughout that the self-referential becomes universal, and makes you recall, for example, the first time you saw your lover dance... or give you heroin, if that's your bag.
So, at last, the narratives of hapless Junkie Pete and genius songwriter, bandleader and chronicler of Noughties British bohemia Peter Doherty have connected and fused. It sounds like a boy wiping the lines off the mirror, taking a good hard look at the man looking back, shedding a tear, cracking a wry smile, and going to work. Perhaps that's the best rehab a self-destructive genius can get. Someone tell Amy.