Peter Doherty – ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ Review

Some of the prettiest, best-realised songs of The Libertine’s career

As a long-time resident of the city, it’s no surprise that Peter Doherty’s second solo album has a thing or two to say about last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris, nor is what he has to say about them all that surprising. “Come on boys, you gotta choose your weapons – J-45 or AK-47,” he sings on ‘Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven’, decrying a generation who’ve chosen guns over guitars by harking back to ye olde Arcadian ideals of what follows when “faith in love and music” is lost. Like most of his proclamations, it’s a poetic way of seeing the world, not a practical one: you don’t look to Doherty for insight into how we live now, but reveries of how we might have lived in a mythological then.

The path of the J-45 hasn’t always been a barrel of laughs for him either, but with ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ – his third album in four years, and his first solo outing since 2009’s ‘Grace/Wastelands’ – Doherty is finally beginning to show an aptitude for staying on it. Recorded in Hamburg with producer Johann Scheerer, these songs find him exploring familiar themes – addiction and ruin on his heartfelt Amy Winehouse tribute ‘Flags From The Old Regime’, the “sickness of celebrity” on ‘Birdcage’, even a relic of his pre-Libertines years in the shape of the elegiac ‘She Is Far’ – with a wholly unfamiliar clarity of purpose and sound. Gone are the half-formed dirges slurred from the side of his mouth; in comes Scheerer’s uncluttered production and some of the prettiest, best-realised songs
of Doherty’s career.

That’s no overstatement, by the way: ‘Kolly Kibber’ and ‘Oily Boker’ – the former featuring a mid-song segue into dreamy Lee Hazlewood territory, the latter a whimsical mini-epic that somehow manages to stick the landing – are up there with anything he’s written since the second Libertines album.

There’s much more to ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ than rose-tinted nostalgia for your misspent early-noughties youth; as he approaches 40, it sounds like a long-overdue coming-of-age. It’s never been easy being a fan of Doherty, but it’s certainly getting more rewarding.