Wednesday, October 1, 2008

THE CDS: BabyShambles

In the best tradition of Nero -- "he fiddled while Rome burned" -- I'm going to talk about music while debate about the debate rages, while the presidential candidates compare bracelets, while the Dow Jones drops and rallies and drops and whatever, while the bailout efforts continue and my own bank gets the kiss of life from a bigger bank. I mean, ever since the days when The Stones asked "what can a poor boy do, 'cept sing for a rock'n'roll band?" it's been axiomatic with me that rock is the medium, if not "of the people," then of the people who can remain cooly detached from whatever shit-storm is currently appalling the pundits.

And since I haven't written about rock in awhile, I'll go back to my alphabetical CD list and see what's up next...


Not unfitting. Peter Doherty, if anyone is, is currently rock's resident "bad boy" and even now is tabloid fodder: "a coked-up pansy who spends his nights in flights of fancy" (as "La Belle et la Bête" has it). I know of his existence, apart from his crack-smoking with super model Kate Moss, because my daughter became a big fan of The Libertines back in her art school days, and passed along to me the two gritty albums that band, led by Doherty and his bandmate Carl Barât, released in 2002 and 2004. Doherty -- doing that old "too wasted to make the gig" schtick -- was soon on the outs with his bandmates, or incarcerated, or in rehab, or something -- and so that band dispersed. Doherty went solo with the 2005 album Down in Albion which is the only disc of BabyShambles I possess, though my daughter was kind enough to lay some Doherty demos on me which were released in the chaotic interim between Libertines' end and BabyShambles' beginning (the latter was supposed to be a "side project" that became the main project once Doherty was no longer a Libertine . . . band member, he may very well still be a libertine).

In fact, back in 2004-2005 Doherty's "other project" was mainly unreleased demo stuff, much of it on the internet. I'm not sure how all this stands right now. The Libertines never had much U.S. presence anyway, and BabyShambles seems even more a U.K.-only phenomenon. A year ago, BabyShambles released their second album, Shotter's Nation (2007), but I still haven't tracked it down. So, what I've got to say pertains mainly to Down in Albion.

I will say this: Doherty, to me, was the more interesting of the two Libertines singer/composers, but, like other great song-writing duos that might spring to mind, I think he's better working in that duo format. But obviously, it's up to an individual artist to decide if he really is a collaborator or not. Because Barât/Doherty didn't last that long, this album didn't give me quite the sense of a falling-off as when Strummer/Jones went their separate ways (Jones, by the way, produced both Libertines albums as well as BabyShambles' debut -- the irony there is that I would liken Doherty to Strummer and Barât to Jones), and, if anything, Doherty solo is more "Clash-like" than even The Libertines were, which was quite a bit. But it's also the fact that Barât seemed more the pop stylist and Doherty more the ... romantic spirit? In any case, The Libertines albums always featured a few songs that stood out more than the rest -- and those tended to be heavy on the Doherty. On BabyShambles, I guess it's the Libertines-like numbers that still stand-out from the rest, for me.

My favorite track is "Albion" though I still may prefer the solo acoustic demo to the BabyShambles version. In either case, it's a good example of what Doherty does well: it's so dissolute, but as a show of strength. I mean, if you're pretty much wasted all the time, you're pretty vulnerable, but on the other hand, you're also not really accountable. So the song makes you feel that hopping a tram to "anywhere in Albion" is a suitable means of escape, and, if you're in love, or have enough stuff with you, well, maybe it is. See, I did say this was romantic. The other track, kinda the flip side of the lyrical pining on "Albion" is "Fuck Forever" -- because if you're wasted all the time you might also be horny all the time and hopping a bird might just be a suitable means of escape. And it's easy enough to hear, in the "I'll fuck forever, if you don't mind" chorus, "I'm fucked forever" -- which seems to be the modus vivendi of our man Doherty.

Anyway, musically Doherty is able to channel lots of good, hard Brit pop into his songs: early Kinks have a way of coming to mind, as do The Faces, as do almost-falling-apart bands like The Stooges and The New York Dolls, as do catchy punk acts like The Pogues and The Clash. So, if you've been missing that kind of thing (and God knows we could always use more of it), then Doherty's shambles is as likely a place to find it as anywhere, baby. Further note: one reason my daughter looked to The Libertines as the saviors of rock was because of the prevalence of bands like The Strokes at the time. In other words, where that stuff seemed, if catchy, rather pallid and erstaz, The Libertines had more bite, more balls and ... more drugs? In any case, I'm still intrigued by Doherty and BabyShambles' 2007 single "Delivery" keeps his cred.

How can you choose between death and glory?
Happy endings, no, they never bored me
Happy endings, they still don't bore me
But they, they have a way
They have a way to make you pay
And to make you toe the line
Sever the ties
Because I'm so clever
But clever ain't wise
--Peter Doherty, "Fuck Forever" (2005)

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