Usually when a songwriter appears in the tabloids more than he does in music publications, he is forever stranded in the twilight of forgotten career. Appropriately enough, Pete Doherty has proven to be one of the few exceptions. It is difficult to find someone, whether it is an American record mogul or an overseas music blogger, who thinks even for a second that the Babyshambles front man has no talent or presence while performing. This is why it remains easy to stick with Doherty. Even after all his red-eyed public outbursts and attitudinal inconsistencies, he is still very much in the public eye.
After all, there remains a strong argument that much of the media is secretly in love with the idea of a perfectly molded “rock star” whose ability to write a classic song is not exaggerated. It remains to be an effortless task when summarizing Doherty’s battle with plagued drug addiction. As for his musical output, things are not as concise. From Doherty’s early beginnings with the much-touted The Libertines to his recent activity with Babyshambles, his work has been largely acclaimed. Still, many remain waiting for a masterpiece as large as Doherty’s public image. With Babyshambles’ newest album, it is the closest he has come in quite some time.
Leave it to Stephen Street to turn one of the most jumbled acts around into a polished, more accessible mold of their former selves. Over the past three decades, the legendary producer has given merit to several British artists who have proven to be prime influencers of their current time period. From The Smiths and Blur to The Cranberries and Kaiser Chiefs, Street’s resume is one of extreme importance. With his work on Shotter’s Nation, Babyshambles’ second and most recent album, he has proven to be one the first and most vital factors in Doherty’s quest toward the optimistic “comeback trail”.
As overused as the term may be in appliance to Doherty, he is practically a defining characteristic of it. In contrast to the rough-edged sound of Babyshambles’ debut, Down in Albion, the sophomore follow-up is more cohesively executed. While Mick Jones did a respectable job in exposing Doherty’s carefree tone of youthful bliss for his past three albums, two of Doherty’s most recent releases have suffered at one point from periods of messiness that dragged down a few of the stronger tracks in each respective album. For every gem like “Can’t Me Stand Me Now” and “Fuck Forever”, there seemed to be a lackluster track in the vein of “The Narcissist” or “8 Dead Boys”, making the subject of Doherty’s consistency a wavering matter.
In the case of an enjoyable exception, Shotter’s Nation proves to be Doherty’s first release since Up the Bracket that sees his songwriting in consistent form. While much of it can be attributed to Street’s production, the quality of songwriting is spread evenly throughout. Though the sheer catchiness of tracks like the leading single “Delivery” stands slightly more prominent than the rest, the lack of incoherent fillers or mindless jabs at various genres is a breath of fresh air.
Photo: Richard Skidmore
Unlike the lengthy and, at times, frustratingly muddled aspects of Down in Albion, Shotter’s Nation is about 20 minutes shorter and the efficient presentation is for the better. The evenly distributed diversity also appears as a complementary feature. The expected nature of the brash, guitar-led “Delivery” beckons to The Libertine’s greatest (and earliest) years. The suave tinge of jazz in “There She Goes” sees a few quick guitar chords pale in comparison to a superb rhythm section, sporting a bass line that serves as a seductive thrill over Doherty’s surprisingly enjoyable take on retro pop music. While it would have been increasingly difficult to picture Doherty in a soft-listening music lounge of any degree, this is one track that makes it somewhat desirable. “There She Goes” is a risky attempt that succeeds gracefully. Paired with songs like “Delivery” and “Side of the Road” that thrive off intensity and swift changes in tempo, it gives Shotter’s Nation a fulfilling factor of variety.
While Shotter’s Nations contains some of the brightest spots we have seen from Doherty in several years, there remains a few songs with wasted potential. “French Dog Blues”, a sympathetic swipe toward the superficial aspects of a relationship, sees a slick verse collapse into a chorus that, while not shameful, is hardly the equivalent of its preceding verse. Folding into a generic progression of similarly molded guitar chords, it lacks the liveliness that its build-up is intended for. “Unstookie Titled” has many similar issues with a chorus that feels forced in comparison to the several verses that benefit from twinkling keys. “Daft Left Hand”, even with a structure that remains enjoyable enough, sees its weakness in its lyrical content. It has been an aspect that Doherty has struggled with in the past and he continues to do so here, with the simplicity and repetitiveness being the main factor. “I want to lie by your side,” he sings in an otherwise agreeable chorus, “Well, I want to lay down and die if I can’t lay by your side.” While unrequited desires are to be expected from Doherty, he has displayed better use of lyrical multiplicity on several occasions. Despite the few hiccups, quality fortunately outweighs the negative on Shotter’s Nation. Considering the decreased length of the album, it was a necessity that was definitively accomplished.
Ironically, the centerpiece of the album is its last track, “Lost Art of Murder”. While it does not boast the instantly infectious electric guitars or uproarious yelps of the previous tracks, it is arguably Doherty’s most personal of his career. The acoustical approach works wonders in such a personable method too, with echoes of electric guitar peaking out to aptly bolster the melody. While his own life has given Doherty a plethora of touchy subjects to write about, the subject of wasted opportunity is likely the most singularly identifiable. “Oh, don’t look at me like that/ She won’t take you back,” Doherty murmurs over the soft chords of an acoustic guitar, “Get off your back/ Stop smoking that/ You could change your life.”
When he surrenders into lines like, “And what a nice day for a murder/ You call yourself a killer /But the only thing that you’re killing is your time,” it serves as a reminder that Doherty is merely human. Even though tabloids have pinned him as an image of youthful rebellion and not much else, the depiction of regret and sorrowful is resoundingly touching. While he is not fully freed from his days of immature lyrical repression, “Lost Art of Murder”, like the rest of the album, should cause rampant hope for quality that lives up to the hype. With such a poignant ending statement, it is not entirely unrealistic to hope that on Babyshambles’ next release, Doherty will pick up right where he left off.