Peter Doherty – Grace/Wastelands

Pic from Flickr user 'MarcDurant'

Pic from Flickr user 'MarcDurant'

The backdrop to Pete Doherty’s debut solo record – Grace/Wastelands, which was released on Monday – generated equal amounts of trepidation and anticipation for several reasons. Two studio albums from Doherty’s last band Babyshambles in 2005 and 2007 had moments of fleeting brilliance, but these were largely submerged in inconsistency. Doherty recently fuelled rumours of a Libertines reunion, a possible tacit admission that his musical career was running out of steam. Pete also became Peter, in what looked like an attempted shortcut to respect and maturity. And surely there was no time for songs in between the days lost to prison and heroin?

One listen to Grace/Wastelands blows all of these preconceptions away. Gone are the incoherent and rambling acoustic takes from the Babyshambles days, and in their place come some of the strongest and most complete songs Doherty has released since the Libertines. Ex-Blur guitarist Graham Coxon lends his helping hands to all but two tracks on the album, and his talent and discipline deftly channel Doherty’s creative impulses which abounded with an infuriating lack of restraint on Babyshambles’ albums Down In Albion and Shotter’s Nation.

At its best the album sneers and mocks in a very English way, and it is packed full of musical and lyrical moments which take up this tradition. I Am the Rain recalls vintage Kinks and Broken Love Song sounds like an overlooked outtake from a Bowie record. On the second track, Doherty laments the ageing of the Last of the English Roses – a girl who “knows her Rodneys from her Stanleys”, “her Kappas from her Reeboks”, “her tit from her tat and her Winstons from her Enochs.”

Many of the songs on Grace/Wastelands have been around at Doherty’s live shows for several years, and this experience combines well with the light-handed production of Stephen Street to give the album just the right amount of rawness without sounding overly loose. The music spans an breadth of styles too, including folksy blues on album-opener Arcady, rockabilly flirtations on Palace of Bone and a New Orleans jazz sound on Sweet By and By.

The album, like its creator, does have flaws. Sheepskin Tearaway, a duet with Dot Allison, hangs around a haunting melody caught somewhere between beauty and despair, but is undermined by the tired themes of the lyrics. Within the opening 30 seconds of the track, Doherty makes a clear allusion to Kate Moss and injects the obligatory h-word. Not only does Doherty readopt his old whine of self-pity to deliver this, but this type of song begs the question: could he still produce material without the muse of his excess? The rest of Grace/Wastelands suggests he can, making it unnecessary for him to raid the past for inspiration.

So it’s time to tip the trilby to Peter. Grace/Wastelands confirms that Doherty at the age of 30 is no has-been Libertine, and shows his music is back on the right track. Perhaps when the same can truly be said for the man himself he will be capable of producing something even better.

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~ by seanbradbury on March 18, 2009.

One Response to “Peter Doherty – Grace/Wastelands”

  1. I hope you’re right in your conclusion but suspect otherwise. There aren’t many artists who’ve been able to create great, ground-breaking music from the comfort of a middle class, normal existence.

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