Pete Doherty is a great lyricist. Behind all the tabloid controversy, painting with the blood of fans, heroin addiction, dating Kate Moss, falling out with Carl, acting badly in a terrible French film, and just about everything else Pete has ever done, he's a great lyricist with a decent ear for guitar hooks.
Admittedly, I'm bias, The Libertines and Babyshambles pretty much defined my teenage years, or they defined the projection that I wanted my teenage years to be like. But let's not get too Freudian. To put it into context, I used to have both a coat and bag with a Libertines patch sewn on to it (a big statement in a GCSE music class), made it to the level of Super Member on the Babyshambles forum and I've read at least three Pete/Libertines biographies (I believe this might be the inverse of a HumbleBrag).
By late 2009 though, I was uninspired by the solo Grace/Wasteland album, had just discovered Wilco (that obsession hasn't passed yet...) and Pete suddenly didn't mean as much. I was furious that the papers were misrepresenting a talented songwriter, or that a heroin addict was misrepresenting a talented songwriter.
But Pete's back, with Babyshambles in tow and a new album, Sequel to the Prequel, out this week. The band are more refined than they were on Shotter's Nation or Down in Albion, and they're playing very slightly outside of the standard indie fare (white reggae, knees up cockney singalongs) but what shines is Pete's wordplay, clever rhyming couplets and story telling.
So to support my opening argument, here's my favourite Babyshambles lyrics (it'd be unfair to include The Libertines in here), published on the internet instead of scrawled into the back of my Chemistry book.
Kilimanjaro - “On the off chance, that you're listening to the radio, I thought you might like to know you broke my heart...”
The single version, obviously. (Kilimanjaro’s presence on Down In Albion is an insult to the... Oh it's been eight years, I'm just not angry about this any more). Coming as a semi improvised rant in the breakdown of the song, it's not hard to guess who it's aimed at. There's a charming arrogance here that Pete just assumes this cacophony will definitely get radio air play. The key though, is how deadpan and casually with not one, but two justification phrases the heartbreaking (literally) message is being delivered.
Penguins – “I really don't like your boyfriend's face, and I am going to try and take his place...”
A highlight from the new album, this line is the centrepiece of the song: the inter line rhyme keeps the pace fast and catchy, and there's a touch of a Byronic hero here, charming, morally questionable, womanising and a bit of scumbag really. But the title gives away a desperate loneliness, Penguins, of course, mate for life. Whoever Pete's singing to is never going to leave her boyfriend for a chancer like him.
The Blinding - “Come and see the blinding, it's the last thing that you'll ever see”
Another song that wasn't attached to an album. It's a clever little reversal word play, that when you hear it sounds so obvious and simple that you'll spend seven years (and counting) trying to work out why you didn't think of it first.
Fireman - “Oh, Brits abroad, looking for an easy score, talk about North Korea, or talk about your career”
Sequel to the Prequel's opening track is classic Babyshambles, a killer jangly riff and some thundering drums. It doesn't stick around for long and the rush of adrenaline hides some lyrical gems. The second verse, opens with a trademark rolling of the 'r' in Brits (or is it pricks?), blagging a quick hit: perhaps this is more autobiographical and self loathing than it first appears.
Loyalty Song - “What did I dream, there's nothing as it seems, on the way back down for me”
Admittedly, I first heard this song in a live context and thought it was called 'What Did I Dream?' because that's the predominant lyric here. In this song, Pete is musing on the lost friends, tabloid betrayals and the cracks behind the dream of being the NME's poster boy and there's only one direction that it's going. Down.
Fall From Grace - “If I had to tell the truth I would by lying, if I said that I was wrong, to be the right man in the wrong place, on the right side of the road.... ”
Again we're in autobiographical territory here, almost symmetrical with 'Loyalty Song'. 'Fall From Grace' is an older Pete, hopefully having come through the worst of his tabloid days. Cleverly playing with binaries like wrong and right and truth and lies, lightly side stepping responsibility for his actions while admitting to every crime at the same time.
Albion – The whole song, just listen to it now. You'll feel better. Try and get the single version though, the album has a weird long bit at the start.
This would be a standard key of C ballad, but Pete's lyrics lift it higher than that. The chorus is basically just a list of crap towns, and there's a barefaced cheek that gets away with it. Pete juxtaposes a wisftul nostalgia of gin and teacups, meeting in train stations and other Merrie England tweeness, with disused power stations, Reebok classics and violence in dole queues. Just genius.
Babyshambles' new album Sequel To The Prequel is out now, and you can buy it here