Babyshambles: Down In Albion

SOME PUBLIC figures make reality TV shows about their turbulent tabloid lives. Here, Pete Doherty and his band have made Being Pete Doherty — The Musical. And, of course, we will listen with grim fascination, because Pete Doherty is a modern rock rarity — someone who actually lives the myth.

Opener ‘La Belle Et La Bête’ sets the stall out — transparently a song about the Kate’n’Pete show, to the point where La Moss joins in on vocals, sounding approximately 11 years old. Further in, ‘Pipedown’ refers to crack while name-checking The Sun; ‘Sticks and Stones’ digs at Carl Barat; ‘What Katy Did Next’ condemns his story-selling ex (another Kate), and no prizes for guessing what ‘Pentonville Tough’ refers to. Elsewhere, we find a love-struck fuck-up struggling to stay emotionally afloat.

Beyond this ongoing narrative, though, Down In Albion is a frustrating listen for those of us who had hoped Babyshambles might recreate the same flashes of bohemian punk glory that lit up the Libertines’ brief career.

There are several good songs on this album. Most of them sound like a dog’s breakfast. Pete Doherty seems to cling to that (Billy) childish attitude that artistic authenticity is inversely proportional to musical ability. You suspect his ideal song would be ineptly strummed on a battered toy guitar he’d found in a skip, accompanied by drunken vocals sung in the kind of key Les Dawson used to employ when playing piano.

The band also struggle to take up the slack. The Crampsy ‘La Belle Et La Bête’ stumbles and shuffles along when it should be stomping. ‘Fuck Forever’ is a classic with its trousers soiled, a romantic nihilist’s anthem performed by a tramp. Its stabbing guitar riff could have driven a spikey rocker, instead it’s too plodding to really catch fire.

Likewise, ‘In Love With A Feeling’ is starry-eyed but slipshod, and the Smithsian rockabilly groove of ‘Back From The Dead’ is let down by Doherty’s muttered, indifferent vocal. And let’s draw a discreet veil over their intermittent sixth-form attempts at reggae. If only they could repeat the spirit and tempo that fuels ‘Killamangiro’, instead of lumbering along like an aural hangover.

Doherty’s reputation as a gutter poet and bar floor philosopher remains unharmed — Albion evokes a bohemian vision of England that is as much “Yellowing classics” as “Reebok classics”, while “I can’t tell between death and glory” from ‘Fuck Forever’ could be etched on his gravestone.

He’s got the ability to leave behind far more than that, but on this evidence, in his mid-twenties Pete Doherty is already a creative force in decline. He’s produced barely a handful of songs in his career that justify his fans’ “genius” claims. If he’s not going to end up the wasted talent of tabloid clichés, someone needs to give him an almighty kick up the bracket.

© Johnny SharpMOJO, January 2006

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