Well, it’s here, the record I’ve been looking forward to with a mix of high excitement and an anticipatory dread that it might not be the album I’ve been waiting for.
I’m talking about the new Babyshambles album, the follow-up to Down In Albion, which a lot of people just didn’t get on with but I loved to the point where over the last year and more I’ve played endlessly and been endlessly thrilled by – and I’m not just saying that to further annoy Jeff Tweedy.
The still-untitled new album fetched up on my desk last week – by coincidence only a couple of hours before I set off to see errant Shambles guitarist Patrick Walden make a return to active service at the Rock Against racism 30th anniversary concert at Hackney Empire.
It was accompanied as most advance CDs are these days with enough cautionary small print on the sleeve to make you think it should have been delivered by a bailiff of the court and some burly members of the constabulary.
Well, I’ve checked through the small print and while it’s hot on unauthorised duplication – beheading seems to be the preferred punishment for burning or uploading the thing – there’s nothing I can see that tells me I can’t write about it. So here are some first thoughts.
As a huge fan of what the majority of its noisy critics dismissed as Mick Jones’ ramshackle production of Down In Albion, I have to admit to a certain palpable nervousness about its follow up, which I wasn’t at first entirely thrilled to learn was going to be produced by Stephen Street.
Mick it seemed to me had on DIA found a sound to match Babyshambles reckless waywardness, created out of sessions that by subsequent reputation were somewhat chaotic a musical universe unique to the band – a desolate gloaming, at times, that crackled with gripping tension, fractured beauty and a conspicuously English lyricism that also harnessed the singular firepower of Walden’s unpredictably thrilling guitar.
Fans on various Babyshambles forums have been bracing themselves for something approaching the worse here – worried not so much about he album’s contents because they are already familiar with the bulk of the songs, but how those songs would sound, rendered by Stephen Street, concerns as I say I largely shared.
As it happens, all parties can relax. I’ve been playing the album all weekend, and it sounds great.
Street as expected has given them a fuller, brighter sound, free of DIA’s narcotic murk and clatter – to which it teasingly hints via the discordant guitar squall that introduces opener “Carry On Up The Morning” – and gone for dazzle rather than darkness, a radio-friendly glare replacing the wracked static of DIA.
As my wife is fond of pointing out, if you stripped Pete’s vocals from DIA, the album would still notably sound like Babyshambles, thanks to Pat’s guitar. Here however, Street’s more generic production means that there’s an extent to which the band on their own could be just about anyone – until, that is, Pete comes in and then they just couldn’t be anyone else.
I have to say that Street’s approach makes pretty good sense of Pat’s absence, so while there’s nothing like the splintery eruptions of, say, “Pipedown” or “8 Dead Boys”, there are poptastic anthems a-plenty. The band sound great, too, powered by a more conventional guitar assault, for sure, but that’ll guarantee mass audience singalongs on the forthcoming arena tour.
There are inevitably more brooding moments on powerfully-mustered tracks like Unbilotitled” and “Unstookietitled” and the closing acoustic lament of “The Lost Art Of Murder”, with Bert Jansch on guitar, is unbearably lovely.
More on this later, I’m sure. Meanwhile, if you’d like to see “Up The Morning” from DIA as high as possible in the charts on download sales along, go to
The track listing for the new Babyshambles album, by the way is:
Carry On Up The Morning
Side Of the Road
French Dog Blues
There She Goes
Deft Left Hand
The Lost Art Of Murder