Libertine and Albion’s finest returns with a chaotic second album of bohemian rhapsody.
LIBERTINES FRONTMAN’S LATEST POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE.
PETER DOHERTY HAMBURG DEMONSTRATIONS BMG/CLOUDS HILL, OUT 2 DECEMBER
Last year’s Libertines reunion was a decisive victory, cheering evidence that the wild chemistry between Pete Doherty and Carl Barât was far from spent. Even so, given the bleak history of damage and disappointment that cloaked the band’s previous decade, it initially seems prudent to approach Hamburg Demonstrations, Doherty’s second solo album, with expectations tethered. His last lone venture, 2009’ s Grace/Wastelands, grazed the edges of something beautiful, Last Of The English Roses and 1939 Returning fine additions to his Albion chronicles, yet Doherty demands hard work from his listeners. His talent is, beneath the tabloid static, beyond doubt, but he can make his audience pan for the gold dust. Hamburg Demonstrations doesn’t completely spare the audience that chore, riding the line between charmingly unpolished and slightly underdone. It was recorded at the German port’s Clouds Hill studio, where Doherty turned up unannounced one morning in 2014. The title tips a fedora to the antigentrification protests that shook the city that year – riots always being close to Doherty’s heart – but the album very much puts the stress on the “demo”. Despite the violins and pianos, there is a papery fragility here, while the tracklisting has a patchwork quality. The spectral chamber music of I Don’t Love Anyone (But You’re Not Just Anyone) appears in two versions. Flags From The Old Regime has undergone a slight title change and added depth, but remains Doherty’s tellingly empathetic 2011 tribute to Amy Winehouse (“You made your fortune/But you’re broke inside”). The lovely She Is Far, meanwhile, was written pre-Libertines, a pure, urban-folk lament from the past, about the past: “Blues and greys and greens across the river… monuments to blood spilt in foreign lands.” Ditch square ideas of substance and solidity, though, and Hamburg Demonstrations is studded with wonderful moments, even some grander stretches. It opens, irresistibly, with the Brighton Rock metaphors of Kolly Kibber, Doherty’s into-his-collar diction offering age-old ideas of conflict resolution: “There’s one way to settle this… have a skinful and sing Knees Up Mother Brown, dear.” The ceremonial plod of Down For The Outing mixes imperial horrors with personal grief, a disturbing melting between time and place. Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven, is a clearer response to apocalypse. A reaction to the Bataclan massacre, it pushes rock’n’roll and art over violence and religious extremism: “Come on boys, choose your weapons/ J- 45 or AK- 47?” It’s an odd moment to roll out the jaunty barroom piano, but he makes his point. There are less righteous moments, though. A Spy In The House Of Love, apparently a peevish rant against friends who sell stories to the papers, crowbars its aggression into a knackered riff: “There’s no immediate connection between this chorus and this versus/Keep the critics on their toes/Take them out the back with a piece of hose”. Rakish local colour, maybe, but it’s hard not to wish the space was filled by more songs of the calibre of Kolly Kibber, or volatile flâneur’s ballad Oily Boker. Chaos is, however, key to Doherty’s vision, and Hamburg Demonstrations is the work of a man still in thrall to old Bohemia, even including the sound of a typewriter rattling away, a relic of writers past. More time, more rigour, it could have been even better. The sense remains, though, that Doherty doesn’t want a monument, he wants a moment: a sketch, a snapshot, a trailing thought. On those terms, Hamburg Demonstrations shows exactly what he’s made of. VICTORIA SEGAL
Listen To: Kolly Kibber | Down For The Outing | She Is Far | Oily Boker
DOHERTY DOESN’T WANT A MONUMENT, HE WANTS A MOMENT: A SKETCH, A SNAPSHOT, A TRAILING THOUGHT.