Babyshambles: Down In Albion (Rough Trade)

WELL, here comes a record more laden with baggage than an Andalucian pack mule.

If it wasn’t for a giant heap of expectations, assumptions, rumours, prejudices and exaggerations held together with tabloid yarn, slowly struggling towards its release date, you wouldn’t know there was an album in there at all.

Pete Doherty, the overgrown baby and the human shambles who is Babyshambles, finds himself in a predicament almost entirely of his own making. His self-perpetuated residency on the red-top front pages, as a hate figure for those who take no interest in his music, and an icon of dissolute insolence for those who do, means that the music itself will struggle to be heard on its own merits, if any.

Which is fine so far as it goes. Press-generated loathing from respectable society didn’t stop The Rolling Stones or The Sex Pistols from creating sensational rock’n’roll. But if Doherty possesses any such capacity, he’s hidden it well. His previous band, the Libertines, appealed mainly to folk eager to fill a Clash-shaped hole in their lives with whatever they could grab; while the shoddy, contemptuous contrivance of Babyshambles’ live act has held out scant promise of anything better.

So Down In Albion is a record some people will be desperate to love, and many more determined to hate. And the most shocking thing about it is that it’s not the least bit shocking. Not in any sense. It’s not dismal. It’s not scandalous. By its own lights, it’s the worst thing it could have been: decent. Link the words “Doherty” and “decent”, and you have a recipe for, um, not much at all.

The lurching Babyshambles jalopy is steered by producer and Doherty hero Mick Jones with some semblance of composure. The sound is ramshackle, nervy, slender. The songs reflect those tales strung out across the headlines — the sorry exploits and manifold regrets of a dedicated wastrel. The best of them — ‘La Belle Et La Bête’, ‘Pipedown’, ‘Merry Go Round’ — have an almost Dickensian low-life flavour. The rest stumble past unmemorably, like a sequence of carolling drunks.

Recorded by anyone else, this would be one more passable album boasting flickers of singularity. A fragile thing to carry so heavy a load.

© David BennunMail On Sunday, November 2005

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