REVIEW: Babyshambles – Shotter’s Nation
The king of British tabloids crafts an album that hopes to be the first step toward his highly publicized “comeback trail”.
US release date: 23 October 2007
UK release date: 1 October 2007
My Review on PopMatters
by Mike Mineo
Usually when a songwriter appears in the tabloids more than he does in music publications, he is forever stranded in the twilight of forgotten career. Appropriately enough, Pete Doherty has proven to be one of the few exceptions. It is difficult to find someone, whether it is an American record mogul or an overseas music blogger, who thinks even for a second that the Babyshambles front man has no talent or presence while performing. This is why it remains easy to stick with Doherty. Even after all his red-eyed public outbursts and attitudinal inconsistencies, he is still very much in the public eye.
After all, there remains a strong argument that much of the media is secretly in love with the idea of a perfectly molded â€œrock starâ€ whose ability to write a classic song is not exaggerated. It remains to be an effortless task when summarizing Dohertyâ€™s battle with plagued drug addiction. As for his musical output, things are not as concise. From Dohertyâ€™s early beginnings with the much-touted The Libertines to his recent activity with Babyshambles, his work has been largely acclaimed. Still, many remain waiting for a masterpiece as large as Dohertyâ€™s public image. With Babyshamblesâ€™ newest album, it is the closest he has come in quite some time.
Leave it to Stephen Street to turn one of the most jumbled acts around into a polished, more accessible mold of their former selves. Over the past three decades, the legendary producer has given merit to several British artists who have proven to be prime influencers of their current time period. From The Smiths and Blur to The Cranberries and Kaiser Chiefs, Streetâ€™s resume is one of extreme importance. With his work on Shotterâ€™s Nation, Babyshamblesâ€™ second and most recent album, he has proven to be one the first and most vital factors in Dohertyâ€™s quest toward the optimistic â€œcomeback trailâ€.
As overused as the term may be in appliance to Doherty, he is practically a defining characteristic of it. In contrast to the rough-edged sound of Babyshamblesâ€™ debut, Down in Albion, the sophomore follow-up is more cohesively executed. While Mick Jones did a respectable job in exposing Dohertyâ€™s carefree tone of youthful bliss for his past three albums, two of Dohertyâ€™s most recent releases have suffered at one point from periods of messiness that dragged down a few of the stronger tracks in each respective album. For every gem like â€œCanâ€™t Me Stand Me Nowâ€ and â€œFuck Foreverâ€, there seemed to be a lackluster track in the vein of â€œThe Narcissistâ€ or â€œ8 Dead Boysâ€, making the subject of Dohertyâ€™s consistency a wavering matter.
In the case of an enjoyable exception, Shotterâ€™s Nation proves to be Dohertyâ€™s first release since Up the Bracket that sees his songwriting in consistent form. While much of it can be attributed to Streetâ€™s production, the quality of songwriting is spread evenly throughout. Though the sheer catchiness of tracks like the leading single â€œDeliveryâ€ stands slightly more prominent than the rest, the lack of incoherent fillers or mindless jabs at various genres is a breath of fresh air.
Unlike the lengthy and, at times, frustratingly muddled aspects of Down in Albion, Shotterâ€™s Nation is about 20 minutes shorter and the efficient presentation is for the better. The evenly distributed diversity also appears as a complementary feature. The expected nature of the brash, guitar-led â€œDeliveryâ€ beckons to The Libertineâ€™s greatest (and earliest) years. The suave tinge of jazz in â€œThere She Goesâ€ sees a few quick guitar chords pale in comparison to a superb rhythm section, sporting a bass line that serves as a seductive thrill over Dohertyâ€™s surprisingly enjoyable take on retro pop music. While it would have been increasingly difficult to picture Doherty in a soft-listening music lounge of any degree, this is one track that makes it somewhat desirable. â€œThere She Goesâ€ is a risky attempt that succeeds gracefully. Paired with songs like â€œDeliveryâ€ and â€œSide of the Roadâ€ that thrive off intensity and swift changes in tempo, it gives Shotterâ€™s Nation a fulfilling factor of variety.
While Shotterâ€™s Nations contains some of the brightest spots we have seen from Doherty in several years, there remains a few songs with wasted potential. â€œFrench Dog Bluesâ€, a sympathetic swipe toward the superficial aspects of a relationship, sees a slick verse collapse into a chorus that, while not shameful, is hardly the equivalent of its preceding verse. Folding into a generic progression of similarly molded guitar chords, it lacks the liveliness that its build-up is intended for. â€œUnstookie Titledâ€ has many similar issues with a chorus that feels forced in comparison to the several verses that benefit from twinkling keys. â€œDaft Left Handâ€, even with a structure that remains enjoyable enough, sees its weakness in its lyrical content. It has been an aspect that Doherty has struggled with in the past and he continues to do so here, with the simplicity and repetitiveness being the main factor. â€œI want to lie by your side,â€ he sings in an otherwise agreeable chorus, â€œWell, I want to lay down and die if I canâ€™t lay by your side.â€ While unrequited desires are to be expected from Doherty, he has displayed better use of lyrical multiplicity on several occasions. Despite the few hiccups, quality fortunately outweighs the negative on Shotterâ€™s Nation. Considering the decreased length of the album, it was a necessity that was definitively accomplished.
Ironically, the centerpiece of the album is its last track, â€œLost Art of Murderâ€. While it does not boast the instantly infectious electric guitars or uproarious yelps of the previous tracks, it is arguably Dohertyâ€™s most personal of his career. The acoustical approach works wonders in such a personable method too, with echoes of electric guitar peaking out to aptly bolster the melody. While his own life has given Doherty a plethora of touchy subjects to write about, the subject of wasted opportunity is likely the most singularly identifiable. â€œOh, donâ€™t look at me like that/ She wonâ€™t take you back,â€ Doherty murmurs over the soft chords of an acoustic guitar, â€œGet off your back/ Stop smoking that/ You could change your life.â€
When he surrenders into lines like, â€œAnd what a nice day for a murder/ You call yourself a killer /But the only thing that youâ€™re killing is your time,â€ it serves as a reminder that Doherty is merely human. Even though tabloids have pinned him as an image of youthful rebellion and not much else, the depiction of regret and sorrowful is resoundingly touching. While he is not fully freed from his days of immature lyrical repression, â€œLost Art of Murderâ€, like the rest of the album, should cause rampant hope for quality that lives up to the hype. With such a poignant ending statement, it is not entirely unrealistic to hope that on Babyshamblesâ€™ next release, Doherty will pick up right where he left off. 7/10
- Mike Mineo