Album Review: Pete Doherty, Hamburg Demonstrations

Impassioned Return from Sometime Libertines Troubadour

Pete Doherty was a celebrity when the designation still held genuine currency. In the Time Before Twitter, he dated Kate Moss, took drugs in the presence of journalists and was ever-present in the red tops. True, he was soon better known for his antics than his music – but at least he was famous for SOMETHING. Oh for the days when infamy required a flair for scandal, rather than a busy Instagram feed.

The spotlight eventually moved on and now Pete is back where he started, more or less. Last year’s Libertines comeback was a reminder of how gloriously divisive the band had been at their peak. However, with the group on hiatus again (a new record is rumoured), Doherty has retreated to his mid-career incarnation of fragile troubadour.

Recorded, in Hamburg (obviously) with producer Johann Scheerer, his second solo LP is an encouraging return from an artist revealed to be in his element crooning softly over wispy guitars. ‘Birdcage’, a dulcet duet with Suzi Martin (also his business partner), features lyrics by Amy Winehouse and channels some of the shambolic zing of The Libertines in their prime, while ’The Whole World Is Our Playground’ underlines his credentials as British rock’s wayward troubadour in chief.

He has a thing or two to say about the state of the world, too. ‘Flags From The Old Regime’ is a reworking of a tribute he penned to Winehouse, months after his friend’s death, and brims with the numbness of the freshly bereaved. It’s a dirge, yet also a critique of the fame that warped and ultimately destroyed her (a beast with whom he is likewise acquainted).

Even more pointed is ‘Hell To Pay at the Gates of Heaven’, an impassioned address to a militant young man who has chosen extremism over rock and roll (the traditional conduit for youthful rebellion). It’s a powerful moment, reminding us that, while the masses may have forgotten his name, Doherty is still a mercurial talent to cherish.


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