A lot has happened in the world of Pete Doherty in the six years since Babyshambles’ last record ‘Shotter’s Nation’ – a solo album, a Libertines reformation and disintegration, a high profile split with Kate Moss, incarceration in Wormwood Scrubs, the tragic death of Amy Winehouse, a film role and finally an exile to Paris.
When reports trickled out that Babyshambles were back in the studio earlier this year, there was a general feeling that if this wasn’t yet another false start it would certainly be an important album in the Peter Doherty canon. On being offered one of the very first listens to ‘Sequel to the Prequel’, Louder Than War sent Fergal Kinney to give his first thoughts on the record.
Clocking in at 1 minute 40 seconds amidst a swell of feedback, this is an opener as short and sharp as it is thrilling. First aired live by Babyshambles some six years ago, ‘Fireman’ is an instantly raucous rush of amphetamine guitars and barely-intelligible yelps about Brits abroad, North Korea and pots of wine – business as usual then. Pete Doherty’s eye for humour as a lyricist here is matched only by his ability to simultaneously both mumble and shout (try it, it’s harder than you think).
Nothing Comes to Nothing
Virtuoso former Smiths producer Stephen Street’s fingerprints are all over the album’s supreme lead single ‘Nothing Comes to Nothing’; if Radio 1 played anything with a guitar ever, this slice of glistening guitar pop would be it. A long awaited reminder of Doherty’s often ignored pop sensibilities with a well judged falsetto warble that packs something of a surprise emotional punch.
In the wake of a very much heavyweight start to the record, the slightly lethargic ‘New Pair’ is an odd offering so early into the album but just about manages to sustain momentum with its floating Doherty vocal and almost country flavours.
The unexpectedly anthemic chorus of ‘Farmer’s Daughter’ proves an early highlight of the record, think ‘UnStookieTitled’ off ‘Shotter’s Nation’ but with one of Pete Doherty’s most powerful, soaring vocals. With just enough scratchy guitars and genuine warmth to shield it from the trappings of arena rock, ‘Farmer’s Daughter’ is a triumph of Babyshambles’ versatility.
Fall From Grace
“If I had to tell the truth, I would be lying” offers Doherty on one of his most revelatory bouts of introspection yet, managing to be confessional whilst still clouded in ambiguity. Some ten years on from first admitting problems with addiction, ‘Fall From Grace’ is arguably Doherty’s most frank confrontation of the ugliness of his condition.
Pete Doherty’s magpie tendencies have always been strong, and boldly ‘Maybeline’ boldly lifts the chorus from Stone Roses gem ‘Where Angels Play’ (“I don’t want your love, bang bang bang gone, I don’t need your love the seeds are sewn”) over an infectious garage riff. Of course this isn’t the first time that Doherty has sent royalty cheques in the direction of Mr Ian Brown – 2007’s ‘French Dog Blues’ quoted a full verse of ‘Deep Pile Dreams’ from Brown’s ‘Unfinished Monkey Business’ album.
Sequel to the Prequel
The segments of muffled demo recordings that book end the opening and closing seconds of this track serve, if nothing else, as a stark reminder of how much Pete Doherty benefits from the whipcrack of Stephen Street and the watertight musicianship of Drew, Mik and new recruit Jamie Morrison. The album’s title track may on first listen be all vaudeville and music hall but Doherty’s lyrics of women with an inclination towards intoxication and fornication make ‘Sequel to the Prequel’ a charmingly compulsive delight.
‘Dr. No’ and its apocalyptic ska is certainly many miles away from its predecessor; the reggae influence brought to the table by Mik Whitnall conjures something altogether very haunting and unsettling as Doherty opines in grave tones about “sharks in the waters”. Daring, dark and infectious.
There’s long been a touch of Lou Reed in Pete Doherty’s knack for conjuring malevolence out of innocence; there’s a prevailing darkness as a Saturday night turns into two Sunday mornings later but still all Pete’s got on his mind is the relative merits of penguins at a zoo. A track that takes more than a few unexpected turns, both lyrically and musically, but like ‘Dr. No’ before it serves as one of the album’s strongest moments.
Picture Me in a Hospital
Whilst the obvious assumption would be to see this track as autobiographical on Pete’s part, it’s actually inspired by bassist Drew McConnell’s devastating bike accident in the summer of 2011 – an accident which would prove the motivation for McConnell to force Babyshambles out of a seemingly endless hibernation to deliver ‘Sequel to the Prequel’, a record with more Drew co-writes than previous Babyshambles albums. A profoundly moving track with a violin line conjuring ‘Too-Rye-Ay’ era Dexy’s, ‘Picture Me in a Hospital’ has the same pastoral feel as ‘Fall From Grace’ and serves as final proof that Babyshambles is far from the Pete Doherty show.
Seven Shades of Nothing
“Are you trying to say this world isn’t beautiful enough?” questions Doherty to himself after a chorus of “Give it up, give it up, give it up”. Unlike its lyrical sister ‘Fall From Grace’, ‘Seven Shades of Nothing’ is optimistic, upbeat and forward-looking.
Darting from a swampy blow-out to a whisper in a heartbeat, ‘Minefield’ is a slow burning, perfectly realised climax to an album surprising mostly for the high quality of its content. Anyone who immersed themselves in ‘Shotter’s Nation’ will know what they are capable of, indeed Doherty’s solo outing ‘Grace/Wastelands’ was more than a hint of a greater maturity to come, but ‘Sequel to the Prequel’ really is at least every bit as powerful, compelling and crucially consistent a record as any Doherty has ever put his name to.