Unbelievably, we now live in a world where there's no Pete(r) Doherty drama, just an album release. Seemingly without a lot of fanfare, the former Libertines genius -- (and I don't use that word lightly) -- has offered up perhaps his most assured solo recording with Hamburg Demonstrations, out today on Clouds Hill/BMG. I've absorbed this one and, you know what? Maybe it's time to fire up those trumpets for this cat again 'cause this one is just that good folks.
It is something worth stressing: Doherty has perhaps never sounded more in command of his material than he does here. If most of Hamburg Demonstrations (necessarily) lacks the youthful storm-the-barricades fire of the Libertines recordings, or even the fuck you fervor of the first Babyshambles ones, it retains Doherty's sense of wearing the mantle of a poet in a doomed world. The dour-but-beautiful "Down For The Outing" mines a mournful melody, while the robust "Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven" ramps up the energy for a missive on the Paris terror attacks. Some of Doherty's best work is here, not on the last Libertines release. He has found, at last, a way to corral his prodigious talents in a new way, and not to run amok in the search of the perfect moment. One listen to the absurdly beautiful "Flags From The Old Regime" ought to convince anyone of how fantastically gifted this gentleman is, his skills now sharpened and capable of offering up a Jobim-meets-Cale-like bit of business like this number. The old music hall charms of the wistful "I Don't Love Anyone (But You're Not Just Anyone)" linger and gain subtle power through the precise instrumentation -- the violin and soft drums making this cut with its Morrissey-worthy title one of the absolute standouts of Hamburg Demonstrations. Similarly, "A Spy In The House Of Love" here takes on a more polished vibe. A long-time fan of The Libertines and Doherty could well imagine that this sort of thing would have been a toss-off for the guy some years ago, all fast and loose and played with abandon. Here, while light as a feather, the cut is more refined and it shows every sign of Doherty now, at this point in his career as an artist, laboring (properly) over his compositions with the results being every bit as great as the singles from The Libertines even if it's a different sort of great. "The Whole World Is Our Playground" is the younger Doherty now playful where he was once end-of-the-world-wild, the melody coming easy and effortlessly.
Without a doubt, Hamburg Demonstrations is surely the most polished solo Peter Doherty release so far. And with that polish comes a sense of growth, Doherty now no longer the wild child of Brit indie, no longer on death's doorstep. Having cheated death, he's earned this. Hamburg Demonstrations is, frankly, a bold new step in the right direction for Doherty as a solo artist. If the echo of the Libertines trumpet sounds again, he'll surely rise to answer it. Until then, Doherty is off crafting near-chamber pop of the finest sort, a blend of folk, English music hall, and Pogues-inspired ramshackle rock. Doherty has, finally, found a way to harness his demons and the results are, if not the end-of-the-world indie of The Libs, nor the "fuck-it"-shrug-and-slouch of Babyshambles, at least something sublime. Hamburg Demonstrations is that good, that much of a career turning point for a guy who truly needed this new start in his (musical) life.
You can follow Peter Doherty via many social media outlets. Hamburg Demonstrations is out today via Clouds Hill/BMG.