The return of Peter Doherty is always an event, but on first hearing the new Babyshambles record what’s immediately clear is that for once, it really isn’t all about him. This is an album that’s been dragged kicking and screaming into existence by his bandmates, guitarist Mik Whitnall and above all bassist Drew McConnell who deserves his own private section of Albion for the work he’s done ushering these songs into the light. Let’s see how it breaks down:
A defiant, punky opener with teeth bared and daggers drawn, complete with unmistakably ‘Pete’ lyrics about having “a pot of wine/sucking on a bone/chewing on a microphone.” They’ve been playing this one live for at least half a decade.
‘Nothing Comes To Nothing’
You’ve already heard the swooning return single, which was originally written by Mik before Peter added the lyrics and Stephen Street the Morrissey-tinged production. For all its prettiness, though, it doesn’t half prove Peter could do with taking enunciation lessons. His words tend to disappear into indie blacmange.
A softer, gentler Drew composition which opens with some beautiful guitar work before Peter adds the sort of day-dreaming croon which makes it sound like he’s wandered into the studio and then forgotten why he came in. He mentions a character who looks at the world through “anesthesic shades”. I wonder where he got the idea?
A real early highlight – Once you’ve picked yourself up off the floor and recovered from the staggering surprise that Peter Doherty can, after everything, still actually sing. It starts brooding and beautiful – slightly bizarrely referencing the old church song ‘Little Donkey’ – but builds into a proper Babyshambles anthem.
‘Fall From Grace’
The moment you realise Babyshambles have become more bucolic than narcotic. This comes straight out of leftfield – or some sort of field, anyway: a country-flavoured slice of pastoral sweetness, co-written by Peter with John Robinson of The Bandits (who also co-wrote ‘I Am The Rain’ from ‘Grace/Wastelands’).
Not, sadly, a cover of the Chuck Berry classic, but there something old school rock’n’roll about Peter’s yearning plea for the titular heroine to “crash into his arms”. (I know, I know, not the first time a heroine has crashed into his arms).
‘Sequel To The Prequel’
Doherty’s adoration of traditional British culture is well-documented, and it doesn’t take too much of a leap to imagine this jaunty title track ringing out in some post-war music hall.
A reggae and ska-influenced number that owes a lot more to Desmond Dekker than it does to Sean Connery. You’re instantly transported to a very different sort of dance hall than on the previous track.
The song that will have you skipping back, a confused look splattered across your face as you mutter: “Did Pete Doherty really just sing: ‘We could see monkeys / we could see snakes / we could see penguins / ah, penguins are great!’???” The fact that Doherty’s apparent newfound innocence extends to him taking lovely trips to the zoo is somehow pretty endearing.
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‘Picture Me In A Hospital’
In many ways the album’s heart: In July 2011, Drew suffered horrendous injuries after being knocked off his bike by a car in east London, suffering multiple breaks to his spine and other bones. This Peter and Drew collaboration was inspired by his slow, painful but ultimately triumphant recovery.
‘Seven Shades Of Nothing’
Another Drew composition, although you can’t help wondering when Peter sings: “Give it up, give it up, give it up / are you trying to say this world’s not beautiful enough?” whether his own message will ever get through to him.
A true collaboration between Peter, Mik, Drew and John Robinson, the brooding, menacing rocker was apparently written during a thunderstorm – and it shows. A tempestuous end to a record far better than anyone had any right to expect.