CLUAS Album Reviews

Peter Doherty 'Grace/Wastelands'

Apr 1

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009  RssIcon

A review of the album 'Grace/Wastelands' by Peter Doherty

Review Snapshot: Rambling acoustic album from the pen of Peter (not Pete anymore) Doherty. Devoid of the energy and drive of his earlier work, this is a meandering, middle of the road piece which, despite occasional moments of elegance, is frequently bogged down by dull mid-tempo acoustic guitars and Doherty’s increasingly unclear vocal delivery.

The Cluas Verdict?  5 out of 10

Full Review:
You always run the risk when mentioning the name of Mister Pete(r) Doherty of offending someone. He has always been, and one suspects always will be, a name that divides public opinion. To some he is nothing other than a genius. To others he is merely a talentless junkie.

But one charge that can be levelled at the man, and which even his most ardent fans may struggle to dispute, is that he has never produced a consistently brilliant piece of work. Even his best albums with The Libertines and Babyshambles seemed to mirror the drug use that has dogged his career, blessed with the ecstatic highs of exquisitely written songs but also cursed with the deep depressions of incoherent half-sketched ditties.

On his most recent album with Babyshambles Doherty appeared to clean his act up somewhat. If it lacked moments of genuine class, at the very least it was consistent. Continuing with the same producer, Stephen Street, for his first solo record Doherty works off the template of ‘Shotter’s Nation’. Which is to say there are few enough embarrassingly bad songs on ‘Grace/Wastelands’. But then, neither can you say it contains any exceptionally good ones.

The opening song, ‘Arcady’, is one of the album’s best, even though it’s still quite a whimsical piece that carries none of the emotional punch of a ‘Time For Heroes’ or a ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’. Aside from a few flourishes from Blur’s Graham Coxon, there is precious little electric guitar on this album. Instead, every track follows a similar pattern of mid-tempo acoustic guitar, husky singing and soft percussion.

It is a formula that works on occasion. The single ‘Last Of The English Roses’, despite a shambolic rendition on The Late Late Show, is quite impressive. Apart from that, highlights are thin enough on the ground. The lyrics, which Doherty continually views as his strongpoint, are frequently indecipherable. His slurred vocals can appear enigmatic and appealing when the music is strong, but frequently irritating when, as in this case, a majority of the songs are weak.

While never plummeting to the depths of Babyshambles’ most risible moments (witness ‘Pentonville’ on ‘Down in Albion’), there are some cringeworthy tracks included. ‘The Sweet By And By’ is a song that sounds similar to Lou Reed‘s less-inspired songs off ‘Transformer’. Awash with boozy trumpets and tinkly piano, it shows that whatever Doherty’s future may hold in the indie rock genre, there is little room for him in jazz circles.

Inevitably Doherty’s old sparring partner, the supposedly malevolent force of Wolfman, is present. His co-contribution, ‘Broken Love Song’ is actually one of the stronger efforts here, echoing their previous collaboration ‘For Lovers’ in ways, if not to the same high standard. Another former colleague, Carl Barat, assists on ‘A Little Death Around The Eyes’ but this is about as memorable as some of his post-Libertines work. The album is also marred by the similar nature of so many of the tunes. One could listen through it a number of times and frequently not be able to distinguish the ending of one song from the beginning of the next.

There is still a case to be made for Doherty being one of the foremost songwriters of his generation, but for evidence you would be better advised to lean towards “The Best Of The Libertines” compilation before directing someone to listen to this. The word “junkie” is one that has been thrown at him so much you would imagine it’s akin to water off a duck’s back by now. But the accusation of being talentless is one that could easily be levelled at him by a newcomer to his music on hearing ‘Grace/Wastelands’. And that, no doubt, would hurt Doherty a lot more.

Mark Townsend

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