Spare the rod, spoil the child. That’s what they say. An inch of tough love can go a mile if it’s indeed coming from a place of love. It seems producer Stephen Street got ahold of Pete Doherty and shook the shit out of him, and the result is a decent album from one of rock’s most poetic and broken performers.
This summer’s NMEs were rife with reports of battles between Doherty and Street. Both parties gave their stories with Street telling the British music tabloid that he had to tell Doherty to “sort himself out” or he couldn’t work with him. Doherty, for his part, said the sessions were grueling and not at all how his band was used to working, which one can assume meant there weren’t piles of coke and leggy models around to distract the band and befuddle the producer.
“Sometimes I had to sit down with Pete and have really good heart-to-hearts with him to get through all of [the distractions] and connect with the real musician and artist that’s underneath,” Street told the NME in August. “I wanted to prove to those people that he can make a decent record.”
Mick Jones, you listening?
“There were a couple of times when I found myself running down a stairwell after Stephen,” explained Babyshambles bassist Drew McConnell in October. “Stephen wouldn’t compromise at all. He was like, ‘I’m going to get what I need to make a good album, otherwise I’m not going to do it.'”
It couldn’t have been an easy task, but Street has a history of dealing with egos and as self-centered as Pete Doherty seems to be in the press, he’s no Morrissey, who Stephen Street wrangled when a disintegrating Smiths tapped him for their last album. And Doherty must have listened to him as Shotter’s Nation is a much more balanced and complete collection of songs with some real peaks and much, much better engineering than the band’s debut, Down in Albion.
Pete’s also been listening to early Kinks records and that is a very, very good thing. There are big, chunky riffs and distorted power chords coupled with solos that are just sloppy enough to be endearing without collapsing into utter disorder. Kind of sounds like Pete’s tabloid life, eh?
Since we’ve known him, Pete Doherty has been obsessed with a romanticized Britain that mostly existed in novels and poems of the 19th century. Have the last 18 months dimmed the glow of that dream? And as Pete awakens from his drug haze, does he see the world in starker tones? Has he really come to see Britain as less Albion and more a Shotter’s Nation?
By and by the way of an explanation
Cast a drift of the shores of shotter’s nation
I had a lick, it caved my skull in like a brick
Oh now what use am I to anyone
Fucked, forlorn, frozen beneath the summer
Don’t sing along or you’ll get what I got
Yes, Pete Doherty might be getting clearer. He might be getting wiser, but he’s still the boy who kicked out at the world and found that the world kicked back a lot fucking harder. The difference today is he sees that it doesn’t just kick back at him but at a whole lot of people, including faded beauties whose husbands thought them too good looking to do the cooking…twenty years ago.
A lousy life with a washed up wife
And the permanently plastered
Like any sensitive soul, Doherty seems to be painfully aware of his own shortcomings. The best track musically on the album, “Crumb Begging Baghead,” is a tome to those shortcomings with Doherty crying “Don’t take me for no sunbeam” again and again. Mixed with vibrato guitar and scratchy 60s organ you can almost see the white go-go boots stomping through the muddy streets of London. A double-time rave up, replete with handclaps and tambourine, ensure that we’re all reveling in Pete’s misery.
Like Doherty himself, Shotter’s Nation is inconsistent and sometimes veers to nonsense. “UnBiloTitled” starts off strong and was once my leading candidate for single when it was still in demo form on the web-released Stookie And Bumfest Demos, but then falls into a heap of repetative lyrics and aimless music. But there are some peaks among the valleys, which aren’t deep enough to doom the album anyway. There may not be a song that quite hits the rare air of “Fuck Forever” but there isn’t anything as unbearable as “Pentonville”.
I am hoping Shotter’s Nation is more than just a moment of clarity and instead an indication of where Pete Doherty is heading musically. Despite the hate heaped on him by fogeys and puritans, he remains a compelling songwriter and performer. Yes, much (too much) of the attention paid to Pete Doherty is in response to his wayward ways, but the kids know better and for legions of sensitive, poetic, rebellious teenagers, he remains a hero. And if ever there was, this is a time for heroes. Let’s all root for him.
Pete Doherty – “Unbilotitled”
Babyshambles – “Delivery”