In the months prior to the release of the third Babyshambles LP, an uncharacteristically earnest Peter Doherty (who allegedly no longer responds to ‘Pete’) appeared motivated and somewhat reflective in the public eye. Articulating in strong words on several different occasions that he would not be ‘half-arsing’ it, Doherty seemed determined to convey the message that Babyshambles were back for good. Doubtless, many people dismissed these claims as the rambled pipe (induced) dreams of a struggling addict. This lack of faith does not come without reason; for as many Libertines and Babyshambles fans will tell you: Peter Doherty is first unreliable, and second a visionary. Yet, with Sequel to the Prequel, Doherty has taken twelve great steps towards proving us wrong.
Six years after the release of sub-par sophomore record Shotter’s Nation, Babyshambles have made a remarkable return. The third LP offers a mixed-bag of musical styles all of which are commendably executed. Despite the band’s Spinal Tap-esque drummer trajectory, newly-added Stereophonics percussionist, Jamie Morrison, seems to have boosted team chemistry – the updated outfit sound the best they have since their 2005 debut, Down in Albion. But there’s little doubt that there is something else at work here: the fact that, for the first time in years, Peter Doherty has led the band by example.
The Libertine has had his lion’s share of scandal, incarceration and narcotics abuse, all extensively documented by the tabloids so teens never forget that Kate (Moss) made the right choice with Jamie (Hince). Achieving his full potential has always looked to be very low on Doherty’s list of priorities and consequently, Babyshambles – initially a side-project birthed of an indefinite Libertines hiatus – has suffered. But it feels like, for the first time in his life, at the age of 34, the reality of personal failure and the imminent prospect of drifting into obscurity dawned upon the artist and shook him to his core. In doing so, it inspired the work-ethic and blossoming creative headspace that in turn inspired the rest of the band. Fiery opener ‘Fireman’, which propels the album to a running start, affirms this as the band display that they can still pack a punch in a sub two minute song.
While its writing/recording process indeed amounts, in part, to the helmsman’s seeking of artistic and personal redemption, the notion is thankfully refined to a single track – country-themed exposition of regret ‘Fall from Grace’ – and this works in its favour. His apparent repentance notwithstanding, Doherty is playful at times, rhetorically questioning “what’s it like on the moral higher ground?” on ‘Seven Shades’. The title-track itself reveals that Sequel to the Prequel is an album that is meant to be celebrated; not revered as the high-browed redemption of a tortured artist. The effortless transition to ‘Dr No’ a distinctly British reggae-hearted cut that wouldn’t sound out of place on the score of a Guy Richie film – transports the listener from a saloon binge with band’s inner-circle to the seedy bars of Brixton.
Despite the celebratory overtones, Doherty sounds sober. Music-writers always find hilariously outlandish and apt ways of describing the bourbon-drenched voice of long-time oddball singer/songwriter, Tom Waits. It’s surprising that, in spite of the last two albums, descriptions of the drunken croon that Doherty reserved, perhaps unintentionally, for most Babyshambles songs were never afforded similar creative flair. ‘Farmer’s Daughter’ and ‘Picture Me in a Hospital’ – indeed the emotional focal point of the album – depicts the vocalist at his crystal clearest and it’s downright refreshing.
Songs like ‘Maybelline’ and ‘New Pair’ prove to be inoffensive, catchy fillers while sterling guitar-pop take ‘Nothing Comes to Nothing’ is admittedly something for the Libertines nostalgics. Closing track ‘Minefield’, the album’s most austere, slow-burning outing, is not – like much of Babyshambles’ best work – music for when the sun is shining. Doherty candidly offers a word of warning to all those who risk going down his path; a notion that, when contrasted with the tone of the rest of the album, makes for a memorable conclusion. Undoubtedly the record’s standout number is the Velvet Underground fuelled ‘Penguin’ that comes into its own nearly halfway through when the song gives way to an indulgent garage rock jump-around before returning to its initial theme.
It is sad that the bulk of our generation does, and probably always will, associate the name Peter Doherty with ‘the junkie-rocker ex that nearly ruined Kate Moss’s career’. His checkered displays of immense talent, plagued by omnipresent controversy, will have been to the chagrin of his Babyshambles bandmates over the years. But Sequel to the Prequel is the tale of an artist that, in the face of these facts, has embraced his mistakes and responded accordingly. The only potential problem with the album is that it might just be three of four years too late to grab the attention of and change the perceptions of sceptics. But that’s future-Peter’s problem. As the album title suggests, Doherty’s strategy is to focus on the now, and commit to anyone who’s willing to give him a second chance.
Go get it here, and tell us what you think?