Album of the week: Pete Doherty: Grace/Wastelands
**** PARLOPHONE, £10.76
IF EVER a band's frontman was ripe for a solo sojourn, that frontman is Pete Doherty. Ever since the ignominious dissolution of The Libertines a few years back, it feels like we have been watching his one-man show anyway, as it has been played out in various media – Pete in the tabloids flunking rehab again, Pete on the news getting an early release from prison, Pete in the music press actually making music.
Despite the apparent chaos of his personal life, Doherty remains a prolific songwriter and performer. His band Babyshambles are still very much together and working on a third album, but Doherty is such a wherever-I-pick-up-my-guitar kind of guy that solo sightings of the dishevelled troubadour in whatever trend-setting hat he is sporting this season are frequent. It says something for this maligned figure that he is equally at home whether he is playing impromptu gigs in venue car parks and at fans' house parties or solo recitals in the Royal Albert Hall.
A solo album – using the slightly more business-like appellation of Peter Doherty – is the logical extension. Released just a few days shy of his 30th birthday, Grace/Wastelands gathers up a trove of songs Doherty has never yet recorded with a band and takes advantage of the intimacy which a solo outing affords.
The songs are not as immediate as his best work with The Libertines, but the album reveals its wily charms over repeated listens, helped by the sensitive sonic mastery of esteemed Smiths/Blur producer Stephen Street. Street also secured the services of the album's principal special guest, Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, who plays on all but one track.
Though the current single Last Of The English Roses initially seems as dull and lazy as its title, there is plenty here for the partisan Pete-lover to wallow in. Lyrically, he is in fine though sometimes oblique form, doing his best dissolute-romantic pop star Baudelaire turn on tracks such as Lady Don't Fall Backwards. Morrissey-like literary references to Oscar Wilde, Quentin Crisp and the Bible abound.
Arcady will be familiar to keen Doherty followers – he has been playing this sparse, Dylanesque number at his solo gigs for some time and it revisits the quaint olde England imagery that he and fellow Libertine, Carl Barat, invoked so effectively as part of their band's identity. Here, something is rotten in the state of Arcadia as innocence is supplanted by knowledge. Doherty's voice is so upfront in the mix that you can hear him swallow.
There are other unashamedly troubadour moments. I Am The Rain, featuring some delicate acoustic guitar work from Coxon, is wistful, but with an edge, while the low-key Salome displays sly humour. The narcotic love song Sheepskin Tearaway is another languid, plangent strum, with guest vocalist Dot Allison singing the listener to sleep.
1939 Returning exists somewhere as a duet with his pal Amy Winehouse. It would have been interesting to hear how she would have handled lyrics about Second World War combat and the Blitz, but Doherty delivers this one alone.
But these stripped-back tracks are only half the story, as Doherty tries on some different styles for size. The evocatively titled A Little Death Around The Eyes is as good a pastiche of a sultry Scott Walker ballad as the recent work by The Last Shadow Puppets. Doherty attributes its stand-out line "your boyfriend's name was Dave, I was bold and brave, and now you're mine" to Barat.
Palace Of Bone is another departure, with its twangy country noir flavour, and references to snake-oil salesmen and dusty, open road imagery. On the trad jazz pastiche of Sweet By And By, he plays the voluble barfly, harking back to the good old days and lamenting the desertion of his woman over a stiff drink. It is too tempting not to read some autobiographical intent into this. Apparently, Kate Moss never did say goodbye.
He also sticks close to home on Broken Love Story, an album highlight with wistful lyrics invoking Oscar Wilde's The Ballad Of Reading Gaol and, of course, Doherty's own periods of confinement at His Majesty's pleasure, which will do nothing to curb the tendency to romanticise Doherty's "colourful" life and times.
Likewise, New Love Grows On Trees, one of the oldest songs here, which dates back to the days when the good ship Albion was still puttering along happily enough but fuels the myth of Doherty's and Barat's fatalistic friendship with the line "if you're still alive when you're 25, should I kill you like you asked me to?" Though he has safely – and perhaps surprisingly – made it past that watershed, he is still happy to speak to his fans' inner emo teenager. Membership of his outsiders' club remains as non-exclusive as ever.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
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Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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