Grace/Wastelands

18.03.09

In releasing his debut solo album as the more formal Peter Doherty, the one-time Pete Doherty implies he’s no longer the drug-addled, model-boffing, bandmate-burgling “scumbag magnet” (in the words of album collaborator Graham Coxon) of yore. Instead, he’s the drug-addled, model-boffing, bandmate-burgling “scumbag magnet” who wants to be taken seriously.

The thought of producer Stephen Street returning to helm Grace/Wastelands after the awful last Babyshambles non-effort is the production equivalent of a battered wife (“It will be different this time! Honest!”). But against the odds, he and new foil Coxon have managed to partly rebuild the Albionic Man, with interesting sonic excursions into cinematic, John Barry-style scores (A Little Death Around The Eyes), dubby bass and swooning strings, all of which mercifully distract attention from his trademark vocal slur.

It’s the production and delicate arrangements that ensure the songs punch above their weight. Lyrically, it’s hard not to picture ramshackle opening track Arcadie as a French and Saunders parody of Pete Doherty, with Dawn French gurning in the background in a Trilby hat. Similarly, Broken Love Song spunks away a fantastic chorus with self-pitying words about living in a caravan under the Westway after your supermodel girlfriend has given you the heave-ho. Even the hardiest of Samaritans would find it hard to be sympathetic.

Some of these tracks date back to 2004 (and have been traded by Liberteenyboppers over the internet), which explains why not all of the songs are in thrall to his myth. Discovering the gorgeous orchestral folk-number 1939 Returning (containing a winningly ambiguous lyric about a former World War Two evacuee being sent to sheltered housing for the elderly) is like finding a marble fireplace in a condemned building: a glimmer of former glories and reminder of potential unfulfilled. Overall, it’s a big improvement. What a difference an ‘R’ makes. (7)

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