“Let’s get straight to the heart of the matter,” sang Pete Doherty on The Libertines’ long-awaited comeback album ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’. While a boisterous and rousing call-to-arms, that album did little to deal with the demons, bad blood and headlines that dogged their decade-long hiatus. Addiction, ruin and reflection ran through the very DNA of Babyshambles as that band became a beast all of its own, but it was on Pete’s solo work (2009’s ‘Grace/Wastelands’ and the undersung ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ in 2016) that he sharpened the focus and made sense of himself much more deftly.
Having turned 40, the former kid in the riot – who has moved to the Kent beach town of Margate – now seems more at home as the old man by the sea. Formed of friends, collaborators and musical orphans, his new band The Puta Madres decamped to the idyllic fishing town of Étretat Normandy to capture this album with a live recording over four days last summer. You can’t help but feel that Pete is finally approaching something close to peace.
That twang in the intro to opener ‘All At Sea’ might sound a little too familiar, but it soon surrenders to a romantic fiddle and harmonica-laden daydream. After a maudlin organ intro, the scrappy ‘Who’s Been Having You Over’ is the closest the record gets to Pete’s usual rambunctious ways, as he pines, “My, you’re so rock ‘n’ roll”, seeming to roll his eyes at his own reputation.
While ‘Narcissistic Teen Makes First XI’ threatens to erupt into a Lou Reed rumbling wig-out, it stays true to the album’s sense of delicacy and intimacy, making for a highlight – and one of those little gems of a ballad that Pete does so well as he hums of how he “stole no kisses, just some books and the odd cigarette”. The same goes for ‘Shore Leave’, a sweet lament that seems to map his past life onto a World War One fable: “You can’t lose control, if you don’t have control”.
‘Someone Else To Be’ is a curious and folky string-driven mash-up cover The Velvet Underground’s ‘Ride Into The Sun’ with Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. It’s heartily twee and pastoral, so we’re counting down until his nemesis Liam G sends a tweet calling for “that daft smack monkey to shove his trilby up his arse”, or something similar. Still, the track captures Pete’s newfound mellow translation of rock’n’roll. This is an album rested in harmony, and never more so than on ‘Paradise Is Under Your Nose’, as he and Libs’ touring poet Jack ‘Trampolene’ Jones share the mic for a sweet ode to making peace with your lot: “Don’t go too far / Stay right where you are / Joy is wherever you go”.
His drawl is thick and his Arcadian spirit is stamped all of The Puta Madres. If you don’t love Pete, then you know you never will. If you do, then here he is a little wiser, with a testament to his knack for a cracking tune and shattered mirror poetry. Away from the chaos, here’s a record that cuts to the core of Doherty with a little less noise and a little more love.