All of the tabloid fodder surrounding Pete Doherty makes it very easy to ignore his records and focus on his drug habit and problems with the law. It is surely ironic that a lifestyle that we choose to glamorize in some, we levy scorn at in others. Is it a commentary on the dirty secret of conservatism in today's indie rock that most news articles on Doherty seem to mention his music as only a distant second? Does the ease of information in modern times make it too easy to look in and hurl stones at those artists who refuse to conform to "acceptable behavior"? And what is acceptable behavior? And what does that have to do with Art? Who can argue that excessive drug use has not been linked to periods of creativity that transcend what are often fairly mundane modes of communication. Rock music at it's best is not complicated but at it's worst it sure as hell can be very very dull (Spoon anyone?) One need only listen to the second half of Dog Man Star (look it up kids) to hear how compelling the sound of someone going completely off the rails can be.
I suppose Shotter's Nation is not the sound of Doherty and mates stretching their drug addled creativity to it's breaking point but, shocker, it is a really great pop record. Like The Libertines, those who are in tune with the ramshackle Punk influences and Smiths-esque literary lyrical bent will appreciate The Shambles vs. those who have been reared on a steady diet of dancey Gang Of Four retreads. Instantly more "together" sounding than the first LP Down In Albion, producer Stephen Street has reigned in the more indulgent vibes in favor of an economic 12 songs that never venture too far from their core: melodic, punk influenced nuggets. From the obvious Kink's update first single "Delivery" to the crashing sweet-faced juggernaut that is "Baddie's Boogie" and all points in between, the key upgrades are the clear, forceful vocals where before there were often mumbles, and just the overall brightness of the tunes. It's all very listenable, where Down In Albion could at times be a bit of a patchwork to slog through. No half-baked reggae tunes here in other words.
Sure it's not perfect. "French Dog Blues" would have benefited from a proper chorus and "Deft Left Hand" often sounds like a wonky Brit Pop pastiche, but the highlights greatly outweigh these quibbles. The strange highlight for me might be the "Lovecats" sounding "There She Goes," which features couplets such as "How could I let go? / Since I caught a glimpse of your white plimsoles/ Twisting and turning to Northern Soul". I suppose ultimately it's the lyrical output that separates Doherty from the pretenders. The man bleeds sincerity and bookishness from his pores. Whether you live in his almost mythical view of England and it's dark crevices or not, it's a refreshing place to visit.
While Shotter's Nation may not be Doherty's masterpiece it is a worthy effort that may be overlooked now, but will inevitably enjoy a critical reappraisal somewhere down the line. At the moment the release of each Babyshambles record is an opportunity for dialogue on what we expect from our "pop stars" behavior and whether or not the public will actually pay attention to the Art when it's more convenient to ogle the spectacle.
"French Dog Blues"