Whatever you think of him, there is no denying that Pete Doherty has been an inescapable presence over the last few years—gatecrashing tabloid headlines, gossip columns and London courtrooms as frequently as he appears in the pages of the NME. And though there are a growing number of people who’ve reached the end of their tether with the wayward ex-Libertine—with every public appearance and every new bit of documentary footage that emerges, he somehow seems to retain a bit of that unmistakable charisma that drew people to him in the first place. Even so, the lacklustre recordings and missed gigs can’t go on forever. Well, they can, but sooner or later people will stop turning up. Maybe Babyshambles know this as well. There’s been talk from the band recently about getting sorted and getting straight, and now, along with a shiny new record deal, comes a new EP that promises much for the future. Whether or not it’s just the latest in a whole series of false dawns and false starts remains to be seen, but there are some immense moments on The Blinding EP that easily rank as the best things Doherty has put his name to since Up the Bracket.
The first thing you notice about EP is how far away it sounds from the rackety squall of Down in Albion. To this listener, Babyshambles’ debut was nowhere near the terrible record it’s been painted as, but it was still an unforgiving listen –- all rough edges, cheese-wire strung guitars and wobbly one-take sloppiness. With less filler and some stronger songs it could have been a great fuck-you of a record, but as it was, there was definitely something amiss. This time out, there’s no Mick Jones on production duties, and the AWOL Patrick Walden has been replaced by former guitar roadie Mick Whitnall. And it has to be said, top bloke though Mick Jones is, his anti-production skills are not missed. It might be faint praise seeing as though previous releases have sounded like they were recorded in the back of a Transit Van at four in the morning, but The Blinding EP sounds more coherent and direct than anything Babyshambles have ever done.
Indeed, next to something like “Kilamangiro” or “A Rebours”, the title track here sounds incomparably huge. Over a violent, fuzzy guitar riff, and swaggering rhythm, Doherty sings “Come and see the blinding/ It’s so blinding/ it’s the last thing that you’ll ever see”, sounding more vital than, frankly, he has done in years. Songs about tabloid intrusion and paparazzi attention should essentially be indulgent and shite—but maybe because even the most hardened Doherty hater couldn’t help but sympathise with his anger at the great British press, he gets away with it. The moment in “The Blinding” when the music crashes and piles up around Doherty’s increasingly impassioned rant, and the song shifts back into its skewed groove, is as enthralling as anything from The Libertines’ smash and grab debut.
“Love You But You’re Green”, is an old song that loses the jangling melody of Doherty’s acoustic original and is slowed right down into something altogether more off kilter. Both the unabashedly romantic lyrics and the song’s lop-sided, watery guitar line, hint at something far more interesting than the default Babyshambles stumbling punk thrash we’ve become used to. Similarly, “I Wish” is a desperately sad song, somehow made more poignant by the playful, 2 Tone ska groove that carries along Doherty’s delicate reading of lines like, “I’m piping almost every night/ I watch my dreams float by/ Every night/ I wish to God I’d just been stabbed, oh.” “Beg Steal or Borrow” is a sweet enough sorrow-bound pop ditty, but it’s trumped here by the closing track, “Sedative”, unequivocally the best thing Babyshambles have ever done. The creeping, melancholy-flecked verse explodes into a swaying chorus that recalls any of Oasis’ mid-‘90s anthems, and there’s a touching feeling of battered hope as Doherty leads the whole band in singing, “It’s been a long, long time/ Since I stepped outside/ Into the morning sun now.”
As much as anything, The Blinding EP is a reminder that before things started to get silly, and the ugly, gleaming spotlight turned on him, Pete Doherty was one of our most exciting songwriters. And while all of the other nonsense surrounding his life has become boring beyond belief—who honestly gives a fuck how many drugs he’s taken or what his Gucci branded missus gets up to—just maybe, there’s a hope for the music after all. The thing about Doherty is that one great gig or melody or lyric can immediately make you forgive and forget about all about the let-downs and no-shows, as you realise, that for all his fuck-up’s, the man has talent and charisma to burn. We’ve probably read far too much of the Pete Doherty story already to get too excited by the promise of these songs, but there’s a reinvigorated focus and soul to this EP that suggests that, whatever the press will have you believe, Babyshambles might yet have it in them to become something very special indeed.
// Notes from the Road
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