Please stop snorting lines of blow off supermodels’ thighs for a minute and listen up. We know it was fun. Who can blame you for wanting to hang out and do drugs with Kate Moss? But you can’t let it interfere with your work, man. You had a very important job to do, Mick, and you blew it.
The release of the Babyshambles debut, Down in Albion, was a make-it-or-break-it event. After all the bullshit in the press about monasteries and burglary and Elton John, this album was supposed to prove to everybody that all the media attention was just extraneous noise surrounding a truly talented musician. Fans of Pete Doherty, myself included, wanted to be able to show the world why we care so deeply about this flagrantly fucked up young songwriter. Why is it news that some unknown (over here) musician got busted again? “Here’s why,” we were supposed to confidently declare as we cranked up the volume, Mick, on your latest production.
But that didn’t happen.
Have you listened to this album, Mick? I mean, really listened to it? Do you think it sounds good? Really? Do you like the tone of the acoustic guitar on “Albion”? Because I don’t. I think that guitar sounds like shit. Worse than shit. It’s sounds cheap and thin and buzzy like one of those terrible Ovation acoustic/electric hybrids. Is that what it is, Mick? Because it sounds fucking awful. It’s your job as the producer to make sure they play the right instruments to get the best sounds.
It’s also your job to get the best performances out of the musicians. How do you feel about the performances on this album? Think they’re pretty good? You think it’s okay for the singer to sing half his lines either off-mic or indifferently slurred beyond intelligibility? Those are the best takes? The keepers?
Jones was clearly distracted You’ve gotten good performances out of Pete before, Mick. The Libertines’ Up the Bracket is a masterpiece of controlled chaos. It’s messy, but it’s good-messy. A band can be as sloppy as they want as long as they’ve got a great rhythm section holding it all together. And the Libertines had a shit-hot rhythm section. Babyshambles…not that great. But even before Babyshambles, you telegraphed your lazy production values on the second Libertines album. While on the first album you took the time to layer the occasional acoustic guitar under all the exuberant craziness, and worked in a nice harmony vocal here and there, on The Libertines there’s none of those touches most people associate with “production.” So the second album was loose and underproduced, but at least the performances were good. And it’s a good album in spite of its flaws, coming across as the sound of a band falling apart.
Down in Albion, on the other hand, is the sound of band that’s never been together in the first place.
Oh sure. I realize it must be very difficult to sit down with a fruitloop like Doherty and get him to focus on the task at hand. But that’s your fucking job, man. Lock a helmet on the fucker and duct tape a microphone to it if that’s what it takes. Why not? Bring a pistol into the studio like Phil Spector and demand some motherfucking respect from those lowlife clowns. For Christ’s sake, Mick, at least get them to make it through a whole song without the guitar dropping out in the middle of the second verse. Is that too much to ask?
What? Are you afraid you’re going to lose some spontaneity? Lose some of the magic of the moment? Well guess what: what you’ve lost on these recordings is much more important than anything you might have imagined. I know what these songs could’ve been in the hands of a capable producer. I’ve downloaded and listened to hours and hours of demos, so I’m fully aware that Doherty had plenty of solidly written songs for you to work with. There are good songs on this album. Unfortunately, your negligent production renders many of them unlistenable. The acoustic “Peter Doherty Untitled” demos sound superior to your officially released studio versions more often than not.
God’s mercy on your ass when your time comes to explain yourself to the Lords of Karma, because you fucked up, brother. Of course, I might be totally wrong and maybe I’m just failing to grasp your true intentions with this album. There are certainly moments of greatness. “Killamangiro” has become something of a classic. And in the build-up to the chorus of “Fuck Forever,” when Pete’s singing about how they “make you tow the line,” that’s a pretty transcendent moment. And “Pipedown” is a solid all the way through: “Put the pipe down / if you got the right sound.” Was he talking to you, Mick? And “Albion” is such a good song it almost overcomes that cheap Ovation guitar tone. Almost.
But “Pentonville Rough.” What is this, Sandinista? The producer should also be an editor, Mick, and be willing to say, “Guys, that’s a stupid idea. That doesn’t belong on this album.” But you never said that, did you?
There are plenty of “broken masterpiece” albums that a lot of people are crazy about (Big Star’s Third, Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night), and Down in Albion might end up being one of them. We’ll see. The problem with broken masterpieces is that you only realize their greatness years later. And who’s got that kind of time? Certainly not Pete Doherty, who at this rate is bound to check out any minute now.
And not me either. And I blame you, Mick Jones, for dropping the ball. You were obviously working with a bunch of fuck-ups, no question there, but it’s your job to reel them in and get their shit together. Down in Albion is not only a shambles of an album, it’s a sham.
Jake Brown, a critical fan
PS – I still love the Clash!