Thursday, 10 October 2013

Sequel To The Prequel - Babyshambles


"In the half light, you're looking all right," croons a reinvigorated Peter Doherty on the Babyshambles third and most recent offering. They are looking all right too; this is a mature and accomplished piece of work from a band renowned for sporadic genius and woeful failure. 

It's been five years since the band have produced any new material and it is largely thanks to bassist, Drew McConnell, for getting the group back into gear. A motorcycle accident spurred an epiphany for the young man, who wrote a number of the tracks for the record, the first time since the Libertines era that Doherty has shared song writing credits. 

The album blasts into life with the frantic 'Fireman,' a song that has been around for a little while and clocks in at under two minutes. If proof was needed that the 'Shambles had not gone soft, this is it. A Pistol-esque punk offering where Doherty spits, "it's breakfast time, drink a pot of wine, sucking on a bone, chewing on a microphone," suggestions here that the frontman is still deeply engrained in the rock n' roll lifestyle which has stolen a number of the headlines in recent years.

Saying this, Doherty does leads a slightly less madcap lifestyle and spends a lot of his private time with his new girlfriend painting and playing solo gigs. This is not to mean his troubles are over. At the band's recent show in Manchester, they only played for one hour (a bit of a cheek given the £25 ticket cost), and members of the group had to coerce the singer to return to the stage numerous times.

Despite this, the rest of the tour has been well received by fans and on the whole the band have been in fine fettle. It is reported Mick Whitnall is now clean, quite an achievement for the guitarist who has been Doherty's creative right-hand man for a number of years. The album itself is a melange of different contributions; this is not Doherty's work, it is a quite the collaboration and the band lose little for it.

The lead single, 'Nothing comes to Nothing' is a sugary pop-tastic slice of fun. Doherty's harmonies and major chords lead the way but ultimately I would argue this is a safe number in the same vein as 'Kilimanjaro,' designed primarily for the radio but lacking the punch of a 'Can't Stand Me Now' or 'Don't Look Back Into The Sun.'

That being said, there is nothing wrong with the maturation of a band. I mean we can't be 21 forever and a lot is made of bands 'selling out' and going soft. The truth is, there is a great deal of quality on this record. The band do have a pop producer in Stephen Street who manages to hone the 'Shambles sound, whilst still retaining a lot of the authentic quality.

'Picture me in a Hospital' is a glorious homage to Drew McConnell's post-accident blues and borrows a little stylistically from the poignant single 'Beg, Steal or Borrow.' 'Farmer's Daughter' is as close to a stadium rock anthem as you are going to get on the album with the singer belting out 'he knows where his daughter goes' an allusion to a life less ordinary and one Doherty certainly has the expertise to sing about.

However, it is the middle of the album that truly excels. Previous album 'Shotter's Nation' was oozing filler ('Deft Left Hand' and 'Crumb Begging Baghead' spring immediately to mind), but 'Sequel...' surpasses its predecessor by having a core of powerful, standout tracks throughout.'Maybelline' is an upbeat footstomper (not a make up jingle), while 'Fall from Grace' ebbs and flows, telling a story of our protagonist and his inevitable pitfalls. 

'Penguins' is a quirky love song, where Doherty muses about zoo animals "we could see penguins, yeah penguins are great" before bursting into a rock no roll chorus with the immortal line, "I really don't like your boyfriend's face and I think I am going to try and take his place." 

Stand out track and live favourite is 'Seven Shades' which is again an upbeat, powerhouse of a tune, this time our singer waxing lyrical about the haters who condemn his debauched lifestyle. "What’s it like on the moral high ground?" He asks, before deciding, "judging by your face I'm glad I never asked, step outside the bar and kick seven shades of shit out of you." Powerful stuff, if a little tongue in cheek, yet on the contrary it's the late night boozy feel of this album that makes it such a roaring success. The title track is a tribute to Doherty's (and indeed The Libertines) jazz/swing roots and is another highlight of the album. Piano-led and laced with whisky and melancholy, this is a wonderful nod to the Legs 11 era and shows the band's immense diversity and ability to write poignantly in a variety of styles. 

The album closes with 'Minefield,' a slow builder which moves away stylistically from anything the band have previously released.  From pin drop quiet to screeching guitars, the song is a fitting end to what is a triumph of a third record. Doherty pines, "my mind is on the run" in the outro and don't we know it. Yet the unifying force of Drew's will with Peter's undeniable talent has given fans a renewed sense of hope.

And yes, perhaps in the back of all our minds there is a utopian future where Carl and Pete forget the numerous tragedies and fallouts of the past and get to work on a third Libertines offering, but this is the real world and in it we have tangible testimony that Potty Pete has not lost all of his marbles just yet. 

You can catch Babyshambles on the second leg of their UK and European tour throughout October and November. 

8/10