Peter Doherty: Hamburg Demonstrations

Hamburg Demonstrations is exactly what we've come to expect from Doherty: tongue-in-cheek Brit-rock bristling with vernacular attitude and guitars reeking of booze and windowless bedrooms

Peter Doherty

Hamburg Demonstrations

Label: BMG / Clouds Hill
US Release Date: 2016-12-02
UK Release Date: 2016-12-02

It's been seven years since the last LP from Peter Doherty, the look-I'm-sober alter ego of the Libertines and Babyshambles frontman known for one less "r" and a whole lot more decadence. That LP, 2009's hit-and-miss Grace/ Wastelands, was welcomed as proof of the former enfant terrible of indie's newfound maturity; Doherty was 30, purportedly clean, and writing songs leavened by his signature wit and posh poet-slacker style. The songs may not have stacked up well against the best of the Barât/ Doherty partnership, but they were thoughtful, lyrically adroit, and consistent with the artist that you always believed was just behind the Libertines' tabloid-grabbing bluster and bloated mystique. "Sweet By and By" was a finger-waggling ditty straight out of the '40s jazz scene performed by someone envisioning the specter of Kate Moss splayed out atop his piano. "Last of the English Roses", perhaps the best the album had to offer, sounded like a Libertines cut that Doherty slipped in his pocket to keep Barât from finding it.

These tracks didn't make Grace / Wastelands a standout record -- not even one good enough to justify that extra "r" pegged to Pete's name -- but it suggested that Doherty had a few more tricks up his sleeve. Hamburg Demonstrations, for all its charm and cheeky wordplay and get-the-bar-to-its-feet swagger, doesn't quite live up to the expectations that its forbear set for it. Nevertheless, this is millennial Brit-rock through and through, bristling with vernacular attitude and guitars by turns reeking of booze and windowless bedrooms. But that's not saying much; we've come to expect nothing less from Doherty, "r" or no "r".

Recorded in Hamburg, Germany, where the Beatles cut their teeth as performers, the LP has a distinctly urban feel. There's no "Sweet By and By" here to speckle your ears with sunlight. These 11 tracks, while not always somber, smack of concrete, smog, gray skies, and graffiti stretching out for miles. This is Doherty's Hamburg: the sidewalks are strewn with depressive types; the balconies peppered with parting lovers. "I Don't Love Anyone (But You're Not Just Anyone)", for instance, sounds like a dirge delivered after a night of smoking, drinking, and flitting from bar to bar in the hope of staving off loneliness. Vocally, Doherty seems perfectly at home. He mumbles, groans, and staggers his way through the lyric, each syllable falling out of his mouth like a half-smoked cigarette he forgot was still there.

Listening to "I Don't Love Anyone", it would be easy to believe the critical consensus about Doherty: namely, that he's a sporadically brilliant but essentially sloppy songwriter who phones it in half the time and leans too much on his dandyish poet-laureate-of-rock persona. In fact, listening to most of Hamburg Demonstrations would lead you to this belief as well. "Down For the Outing" is a jaunty faux-wartime strut that suffers from the same charisma shortage that afflicted some of the clunkier cuts from Grace/ Wastelands ("Broken Love Song", "A Little Death Around the Eyes") . "She Is Far" strives to close the record with the same cracked-voice romanticism that made "Lady Don't Fall Backwards" so endearing seven years ago, but it comes up short.

That's not to say that the record is a total fall backwards, though. Much of the first half -- "Kolly Kibber", "Birdcage", "Hell to Pay at the Gates of Heaven" -- is palatable in a jagged, unpolished, B-side kind of way. The melodies don't necessarily stick, but Doherty occasionally manages to shape his lyrics into tremulous passages of vocal creativity. "The Whole World Is Our Playground", for example, finds him at his most sincere and expressive. It starts with an acoustic guitar riff that may be the LP's most resplendent moment; Doherty's fingers bend the strings into a shimmering glow of early morning optimism that later returns in verbal form for the chorus. "The whole world is our playground / Take the night by the hand / And set it on fire again," he sings, his enunciation of "hand" cracking under the weight of the life he's envisioning for himself and his lover. It's a song that shows what Doherty is capable of when he really invests himself in his songcraft - something that, sadly, we haven't seen since he added that "r" back onto his name.






Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.