Release Date: Dec 2, 2016
Record label: BMG
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
More than seven years have passed since Peter Doherty released his last – and very first – solo album. Since Grace/Wastelands came out in 2009, two significant things have changed in the world of one of the most unpredictable, but hugely talented, musicians around. One of Doherty’s closest friends, the iconic Amy Winehouse, passed away, and he was reunited with the band he made his name with, The Libertines.
Peter Doherty's music has always teetered between spontaneous and chaotic. Sometimes, this balancing act is thrilling; on Hamburg Demonstrations, it's charming. Doherty's second solo album is filled with appealingly loose songs that are more listenable than Babyshambles' Sequel to the Prequel and more exciting than the Libertines' return, Anthems for Doomed Youth.
A quietly moving confessional Last year’s Libertines album Anthems For Doomed Youth behind him, Doherty goes it alone again with a collection recorded during a six-month stay in Germany. Consequently, there are fewer rough-hewn roguish anthems and a greater focus on Pete the introspective troubadour. ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads As the title suggests, these 11 tracks aren’t exactly over-produced, the no-frills atmosphere most evident on the Graham Greene-referencing Kolly Kibber (‘They broke the mould when they made you/Probably the wisest thing to do’) and the Kinks-like drawl of Spy In The House Of Love.
A cynic might look at the tracklisting for Peter Doherty’s first solo album in seven years and conclude that he was washed up as a creative force. Among its 11 tracks are one he wrote 15 years ago, a rerecorded version of last year’s tribute to Amy Winehouse and two versions of recent single I Don’t Love Anyone (But You’re Not Just Anyone). And yet there’s a genuine ragged charm to the likes of playful, Brighton Rock-referencing opener Kolly Kibber and the pretty She Is Far.
Hamburg Demonstrations marks a departure for Pete Doherty: it’s perhaps the first record he’s put out that few people outside of his fanbase will be paying much attention to. With the endless soap opera surrounding the Libertines dimming down and the sound of rickety indie no longer in vogue, it feels very much like a record that can be judged on its own merits. Those merits – the just-about-held-together arrangements, muttered vocals and literary references – are not new ground for Doherty.
It honestly hurts – we shit you not – to write the words: the latest Pete Doherty album doesn’t make me want to ram a rusty screwdriver into my ears. It’s actually *swallows pint of hot bile* quite pleasant. That isn’t to say there aren't things here that make us want to physically harm random strangers (some of his song titles – Oily Boker, for one – are as reliable as syrup of ipecac for inducing vomiting, and often his vocals sound posed, sung on the hearth of a country retreat fireplace).
Either the most pleasing or the most unappealing thing about Peter Doherty - re-adopted Libertine, sometime ‘Shamble and constant disappointment to your Nan - and his musical output is its predictability. Not for Peter are futuristic synths and autotune. He knows his ramshackle, romantic niche and he’s sticking with it. Few artists, after all, would be able to neatly slide a track first recorded 13 years earlier (2003 demo ‘The Whole World Is Our Playground’) into a new release.
There are few more unappealing thoughts in the 'tennies' (if that’s what we’re calling this decade now) than another Pete 'Peter' Doherty album. I’m sure I’m not wrong in saying that many of us have fond memories of The Libertines' early output, but in the year 2016 scrappy indie rock just seems a bit… backwards. While the surprise return of The Libertines a few years back was initially met by cheers from the pork-pie-hat loving masses, few can argue that their whole reunion shtick has gone a bit cold as of late.
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.
Listening to Peter Doherty feels like being led through a car boot sale by a child: for the most part you are just stumbling around surrounded by nostalgic tat, but occasionally you happen upon something bright and promising. Grace/Wastelands, his previous solo offering, had a haunting beauty, with Doherty’s fragile, mumbling voice demanding you listen intently to his mournful love songs and lamentable tunes of a lost England, all twisted around cellos, accordions and melodicas. On his latest, Hamburg Demonstrations, there are only so many shortcomings that his delicate voice can mask.
At the turn of the Millennium, vintage-sounding, punk-influenced rock ’n’ roll looked primed to make a full-on comeback with bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes leading the charge. But for every Is This It? or White Blood Cells, record store bins were cluttered with dozens of also-rans, one of the most notable being Up the Bracket, the 2002 debut from UK quartet the Libertines. It’s a good album, to be sure, packed with vibrant rock songs equally indebted to Joe Strummer and Ray Davies.
Despite seeming wholly dysfunctional, Pete Doherty releases a lot of music, either with his group Babyshambles, or with his original iconic group, The Libertines. Hamburg Demonstrations, however, is Doherty's first solo album in seven years, one he is releasing with an added "r" to his first name, presumably an indication of a makeover of sorts. The intriguing collage cover of Hamburg Demonstrations is the best thing about this album, which feels unfinished, more like a gathering of demos than a realized, cohesive collection.
There’s much more to ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ than rose-tinted nostalgia for your misspent early-noughties youth; as he approaches 40, it sounds like a long-overdue coming-of-age. It’s never been easy being a fan of Doherty, but it’s certainly getting more rewarding..
Here’s the good news: Hamburg Demonstrations isn’t about Peter Doherty. Well, it is, but not the careless, rabble-rousing addict Doherty of The Libertines and Babyshambles, the one we once saw in the news every few weeks. Where his previous solo effort, 2009’s Grace/Wastelands, often returned to issues of drugs and fatigue, this album focuses more on love and momentum.