Arrested Development

James Garner 20 September 2007

Babyshambles Shotter’s Nation (Parlophone) Released 1st October

It is hard to remember that Babyshambles’ first release was the slick Epworth produced Killamangiro that proved Pete Doherty could still conjure the magic of The Libertines with a new set of assistants. The band quickly lost its drummer before releasing an underdeveloped and overlong debut album. Since then guitarist Pat Walden has been replaced by Mick Whitnall, a 40 year old Doncaster native with a history in ska bands. The evidence of this record suggests Whitnall has been hired for his ability to match Doherty’s crack-cocaine consumption rather than his artistic abilities. But with Stephen Street (Blur, The Smiths) replacing Mick Jones at the mixing desk, at least Shotter’s Nation resembles a studio album.

It is equally hard to remember that Pete Doherty is the most beguiling rock star of his generation and a lyricist of the highest quality. We all know much too well the details of the time he has spent in the company of supermodels, high-grade narcotics and the law. But has he squandered the rest? Well, yes and no. If you compare Babyshambles today to the prolific creative output of The Libertines it is clear that distractions are holding Doherty back. A decent collection of twelve tracks has been assembled but some date back to sessions recorded in 2003. That means they have been dusted off now despite having missed inclusion on two LPs and an EP. Nonetheless, early media reaction to the album has been rapturous amidst attempts to hail Doherty as a returning hero. These reports that he is back from the dead have been greatly exaggerated.

The album opens in some style with a snarling intro and the excellent Carry On Up the Morning. This is Doherty’s Rubber Ring on which he addresses fans: “I know you used to be into me/ Now you’ve got it in for me.” With all the turmoil Doherty has been through he can be afforded self-justificatory lines such as “I’ve given up trying to explain/I just put it in a song instead.” But this song should, ahem, draw a line under Doherty’s personal life. Instead the album continues in the same vein and, as exemplified by tracks entitled Baddies Boogie and Crumb Begging Baghead, it begins to resemble a sordid autobiography rather than the work of a serious artist.

While Doherty still delights with some neat turns of phrase his lyrics are desperately repetitive. They are eternally gratuitous drug references, Carl Barat this, Kate Moss that and poor old me the other. If his early talk of Arcadia could be dismissed as childish fancy it at least showed some ambition beyond his own day to day existence. Now all we get is “my misery”, “my French dog blues”, “I’m a crumb begging baghead.” Doherty seems oblivious to the truth that if he wants to prove his talent he needs to write some great songs rather than merely defend himself through his songs.

Musically the album draws on wider influences than the indie by numbers purveyed by many post-Libertines bands including Dirty Pretty Things. Still, it is hardly groundbreaking. Notably lead single Delivery borrows heavily from The Kinks and Count Five; There She Goes has more than a hint of The Cure. Lacking real anthems the slack is picked up by two winsome ballads, the aforementioned There She Goes and The Lost Art of Murder which has Bert Jansch guesting on guitar.

The other outstanding track is Deft Left Hand. It is marked by an upbeat jaunt that makes it oddly reminiscent of the curtain closer to a Broadway melodrama. It is yet to be seen if the melodrama that Doherty’s life has become will have the happy ending some consider obligatory. This album is not it. It is a cleaner record than Down in Albion but that much criticised debut did at least have the feel of a rough diamond. Shotter’s Nation is just another rock album. Although it has been polished expertly by Street this does not obscure a fundamental lack of musical innovation and lyrical scope. Doherty may have another great album in him but until he takes back control of his life and refocuses on his music he is unlikely to fulfil his potential.

James Garner