Back in the first decade of this century there wasn’t a late-night, skinny-jeaned, shrink-wrapped in leather debauched escapade that wasn’t sound tracked by Pete(r) Doherty. Grubby fingernails scratched the walls of grubbier apartments, clothes were lost to long dark nights. All to the clumsy intricacy of his guitar playing and those feral screams that punctuated the first two Libertines records. Since then there’s been a third Libertines album, two from Babyshambles and 2009’s debut solo effort Grace/Wastelands. For someone whose career is perceived as constantly faltering or in jeopardy he’s been pretty prolific.
Before Christmas, Doherty released his second solo record, Hamburg Demonstrations, with little or no promotional fanfare. Perhaps it’s a sign of the suspicion with which he’s viewed by his record company. Maybe it’s his own choice having been subjected to the kind of hounding from the British media usually reserved for rogue royals during his relationship with Kate Moss. The last few years have seen Doherty living a nomadic life. France, Thailand, the Philippines and now Hamburg. He seems reluctant to permanently return to the land that inspires most of his songs.
The Hamburg Demonstrations title is taken from the protests against xenophobia held in the city back in 2013, perhaps another sideways jab at his homeland’s recent political leanings. Recorded on eight-track tape, each song is one individual take with little or no overdubs. Various musicians were brought in to play around either Doherty’s live performances of the songs or recordings of them. As a result, Doherty’s guitar playing is central to the whole record, creating a loose feel throughout.
Lou Reed’s Berlin is a record that comes to mind, not just because of the German connection. The recording process makes this a record you can listen to from start to finish, there are also recurring themes both lyrically and musically as with Berlin and some audio of arguments spliced into the mix at different stages to boot.
‘Down for The Outing’ is one of Doherty’s rawest ever lyrics, one you feel has escaped the cloak of hazy eyed romanticism he often drapes around his songs, offering his parents apologies for the life he had splashed across the red tops. On ‘Birdcage’ Suzie Martin adds a sharp, deliberate vocal accentuating the vulnerability in Doherty’s performance, it’s one of the more straight forward rockers on the record but more Fleetwood Mac than Johnny Thunders, ‘I Don’t Love Anyone (but You’re Not Anyone)’ is in a similar vein Doherty may even get some radio play from these two.
Hamburg Demonstrations is a welcome return to form for Doherty but hardcore fans may feel a little short changed. With eleven tracks in total on the record one of which appears in two different versions, there’s also the beautiful ode to Amy Winehouse ‘Flags from the Old Regime’ which has been re-recorded from a previously released version. ‘The Whole World Is Our Playground’ has been around since before Up the Bracket, so really this is just a handful of new songs.
Hamburg Demonstrations gives Doherty a platform to build upon. A solid offering of well written songs to reintroduce himself to the Spotify generation as the artist he’s most likely to move forward as. More balladeer than Buzzcock. This record harks back to what The Libertines were before The Strokes came along and made them switch their cloth caps for biker jackets.