Where ‘Grace/Wastelands’, Peter Doherty’s 2009 acoustic endeavour of nostalgia and self-medication, didn’t fully hit home, ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ reaches beyond to uncover a reawakened mind. Doherty disheartenedly paints pictures of music and battlefields that aren’t what they were, a vision perhaps a tad clouded by sentiment that has previously been as much his charm as his downfall.
The current state of the world is reflected to satisfaction; the political anti-anthem ‘Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven’ is humorous but piercing. “Come on boys you gotta choose your weapon / J-45 or AK-47” he sings sarcastically merrily and a sudden relevance attaches itself to Doherty’s iconic unsteady voice. In fact the song is referring to the terror attacks last year in Paris, a city very close to home to Doherty who lived there for almost a decade.
Although the real emotion lies in the songs inspired by the spirit of Amy Winehouse. ‘Birdcage’, he revealed years before the release of ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’, contains lyrics written by Winehouse herself – which makes the despairing theme of the song all the more compelling. ‘Flags of the Old Regime’ is an acknowledgement to her talent and tragedy. “The fame they stoned you with / your tiny shoulders soldiered it / and you made your fortune / but you broke inside” – it is as heart breaking now, as it was when the song first surfaced in 2011, a few months after his friend died.
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The rest is a perfect combination of new and familiar. The album is full of literary references, ‘Kolly Kibber’ is taken out of 1930s gangster novel ‘Brighton Rock’ and ‘A Spy In the House of Love’ is also the title of a book by avant-garde writer Anaïs Nin – hardly out of character for Peter Doherty, last of the romantics.
Throughout the listening, there are some things that throw you off once or twice. The two versions of ‘I Don’t Love Anyone (but You’re Not Just Anyone) for example, seems slightly… excessive. The first is a melancholic arrangement, where weeping strings help tell the tale. The second more cheerful, with an indifferently chipper band to back him up. By the time rendition number two comes around you don’t know whether to sing along to the admittedly catchy song that you’re involuntarily starting to know by heart, or shout “Kill your darlings!” to Doherty for the fantastically absurd decision to put the same song on within 10 minutes.
The fame from the ‘Libertines’ and ‘Babyshambles’ days has faded and the only bad thing about it is that ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ probably won’t get the attention it deserves. It is like Doherty has spent the last decade observing and contemplating, slowly embracing issues larger than himself, he is tired of analysing old headaches and personal troubles, and so should we be. Talking about the drugs, the jail time and the tabloid headlines just seems boring. For once we can let the music speak for itself.
Doherty is a rambling poet full of frustration and reason and this time he has managed to harmonize his thoughts with his music, and it is beautiful. If everyone took notice from Peter Doherty, the world might become a place slightly less deranged. What an unexpected outcome.
‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ is out now via Clouds Hill/BMG.