Romance At Short Notice
Fuck Albion. With dark clouds gathering over Britain, knives glinting and kids dying in the streets, the idea has never seemed so idiotic. While Pete Doherty slumbers contentedly in his own navel, it’s time for his spiritual brother to take centre stage, as we pray the rest of Carl Barât’s group has suppressed the green and unpleasant nonsense.
While Dirty Pretty Things’ first album seemed hurried, the opening song here, ‘Buzzards And Crows’, immediately feels like the fruits of a band who have found themselves. Sounding like the theme tune to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy staring at the gutter rather than the stars, Carl witheringly dead-eyes coke-snorting poseurs: “the buzzards and the crows, pecking eyes, a scene self-obsessed”. With a staccato rhythm, sideshow keyboards and sudden shift to a pretty middle-eight in which Didz sighs “we could be happy indoors”, it’s tight yet adventurous, both hard-edged and soft-hearted. By the time Carl’s roaring into ‘Hippy’s Son’, it’s apparent there’s venom in his veins.
Fuelled by the spirit of Ian Dury he begins, “I am a hippy’s son, I’ll meet you, pull a gun, I’m virile, fertile, scream when I come…”. An admission of his violent, vulgar reaction to his parents’ love-and-peace ways, it’s his most personal song to date and results in a gutsy vocal in which you can feel the heat of exposure, not woe-is-me narcissism. Sadly though, its rawness is then completely undermined by the following Anthony-penned ‘Plastic Hearts’. A misty-eyed Libs-by-numbers jaunt, it’s a sound which, after The Holloways, Larrikin Love etc, is wearing very, very thin and which resides disappointingly within DPT’s comfort zone. ‘Tired Of England’ similarly feels well-trodden, not to mention shit. It is, of course – yawn – about never being tired of this country, with its clever lyrical twists only just saving it from being laughable. Certainly, this nationalistic romanticism is part of the Libs 4EVA charm, but – Christ – it sounds trite right now.
Of the two ballads at the centre of the album, ‘Fault Lines’ pales in comparison to ‘Come Closer’, in which Carl sings for some lost love. Again, Didz prettifies the middle-eight then, when the chorus comes back, Anthony Rossomando joins in too, the whole band howling as one. This sharing of vocal duties – later, Anthony takes lead vocals on the unsatisfying ‘Chinese Dogs’ and Didz does the same on the better, Elliott Smith-y ‘The North’ – is a sign of the band’s ‘closer than brothers’ unity. It’s what made The Libertines so charming of course, and what was interesting in their aftermath is the way Carl sought out another tight gang to play with while Pete the pariah wandered lonely as
a cloud, save for the background chatter of yes-men and yes!-yes!-YES!-women.
It’s a move that is starting to pay off. See, while Pete’s been standing isolated in half-empty stadiums, Carl and his boys have been making friends with seemingly everyone in music and cultivated a real warmth, spirit and rambunctiousness which help to make up for this album’s considerable flaws. What’s more, while ‘Shotters Nation’ erred on the side of career-saving caution, the security of being part of
a crowd has allowed Carl to indulge in some derring-do. Consequently, the album’s highpoints have an exciting edge: ‘Best Face’’s Clash thrash, funk rhythm, and irresistably melodic chorus is terrific, with a raging end where Carl incomprehensibly screams, “you’ve had your fucking swan-song!”. ‘Truth Begins’ has him comforting a smashed girl with another one of those spine-tingling choruses (“For all the friends you’ve not yet met, some will die for you I bet, so hold on for tomorrow”). ‘Blood On My Shoes’ details the romantic squalor of outsider living but, unlike the arch ‘Tired Of England’, it lends drama to the old story of London guttersnipes by way of its simple sincerity. Sure, there’s a residual whiff of mediocrity here, but Carl’s clearly found something else in himself as part of this new gang, and as Dirty Pretty Things’ music grows in assurance, it appears Pete will remain a solitary man for some time yet.