Since I first wrote about the new Babyshambles album, there’s been a huge amount of on-line traffic about both the initial preview and what some correspondents have been concerned is guarded praise on my part for the record.
The various Babyshambles forums have been particularly lively, with much continued speculation about the album’s merit – or potential lack of it – with more than a few people inclined to think that without both Mick Jones and Pat Walden, the spirit of DIA will be entirely absent and the forthcoming Stephen Sweet-produced album no more than a crass sell-out. These are hardcore fans, clearly, and pretty unforgiving.
To make my own position clear, again, I think DIA’s a fantastic record, cruelly maligned by people for whom all the static surrounding Pete is a convenient excuse for not actually listening to it. The thing about DIA, though, is that it’s just not the kind of record you could make again – not that anyone involved has since sounded eager to go through what from all accounts were traumatic and exasperating sessions.
And you can’t at the same time imagine EMI, who’ve bankrolled the new album, signing Babyshambles to re-make a record that not too many people got the first time around. No, what they wanted I think is what they’ve got – unapologetically a much poppier album, full of great tunes that’ll sound great live with the full-throated assistance of the band’s fanatical following.
I think it’s great, and I’m listening to it more than anything else that’s come my way since the Hold Steady’s Boys And Girls In America. And in eventual response to the many requests I’ve had, here’s a more detailed track by track description of the album. If I’m out when you get back to me with your own comments, I’ve probably been hauled off by representatives of EMI and various grim associates and will probably be paying an unreasonable price for going prematurely public with what follows.
CARRY ON UP THE MORNING
Opens with a squall of splintery guitar that slyly hints at the scratchy, desiccated sound of Down In Albion, before what becomes this album’s signature sound takes over – guitars as bright as searchlights, really big tumbling drums, punchy up-front bass, a busy vocal mix and a huge chorus. The lyric is wry going on paranoid, anticipating the album’s recurring themes of loyalty, trust, betrayal, weary explanation, self-recrimination. “I know you used to be into me/Now you’ve got it in for me,” Pete sings, flirting with self-pity.
There were echoes of Ray Davies all over DIA, but nothing as explicit as the Kinks’ riff that fuels this pop gem, the first single from the album and as insanely catchy as “Fuck Forever” or “Killamangiro”. You can only imagine where Pat Walden might have taken the song during the instrumental break – sonic lift off inevitable, surely – but Mick Whitnall, Pat’s oft-criticised replacement, brings a bruised sweetness to another anthemic chorus.
This sounded at first a bit of a throwaway, but after repeated plays its mordant swagger becomes irresistible. “I never ever said it was clever,” Pete sings with mischievous gusto in a final twist to the chorus. “I just like getting leathered.”
The kind of smouldering guitars that suggest someone’s been listening recently with more than a passing interest to Neil Young’s Zuma introduce a song that finds Pete foregoing contrition for unapologetic defiance. “The more that you follow me, the more I get lost,” Pete sings, turning on who knows quite who. “You think that you know me, you’re pissing me off,” he goes on. “Yeah, you said that you love me, why don’t you fuck off. . .” And, later: “Messed my head, messed my head/ How happy I would be, just to shine fire on everyone and no one. . .”
SIDE OF THE ROAD
Raucous punk thrash, and a noisy take on a song that first surfaced as part of The Libertines’ repertoire (they did a version during their 2003 New York sessions). Not exactly “8 Dead Boys”, but it errs towards the ramshackle at a timely moment here.
Fantastic version of one of the highlights of the Bumfest sessions, here driven by shuddering guitar riffs and an inspired outro featuring scalding full-throttle Hammond and serrated rhythm licks – not quite John Cale and Lou Reed biting chunks out of each on “Sister Ray”, but feral enough to make your palms sweat. “I’m a crumb-begging baghead, baby,” Pete fairly yowls, something looking for a full moon to get noisy beneath. “I bet you say that to all of the girls,” he adds with a wonderful slurred flourish.
Achingly pretty reworking and fleshing out of another great song from the Bumfest tapes, partly inspired by a guitar riff from “Fuck Forever”, from which it actually quotes the “one and the same, one and the same” refrain. Mass singalongs to this on the forthcoming stadium tour are as inevitable as the track is irresistible.
FRENCH DOG BLUES
At the time of writing possibly my favourite track, even catchier than “Delivery” and “Unstookietitled”. The guitars by turn wash, swirl and ebb, cut and slash, the chorus swells and swaggers and gives glorious way towards the end to an instrumental peak inspired by The Who. Named after the drawing of a dog by Pete on the cover of DIA.
THERE SHE GOES
Full band version of a song performed solo and acoustic on the Bumfest demos, given a jazzy little arrangement, passingly reminiscent of “La Belle Et La Bete” from DIA. Cool enough, but perhaps just a tad heavy handed.
Chiming guitars and wheezy harmonica brightly introduce a song that perversely is one of the darkest tracks on the album – a song about the descent of a once relationship into “It’s a lousy life for a washed-up wife with a permanently plastered pissed-up bastard
DEFT LEFT HAND
Where The Kinks inspired “Delivery”, so the Stones provide the musical template for the opening guitar salvo here, which borrows heavily from the rifftastic openings to “Soul Survivor”/”All Down The Line” from Exile on Main St. The “golden years” section is magical. Since you ask, I think it’s just surpassed “French Dog Blues” as my favourite track on the album.
THE LOST ART OF MURDER
Sixties folk guitar legend Bert Jansch was a guest at the recent An Evening With Pete Doherty at Hackney Empire, where the pair duetted on a beautiful version of Jansch’s classic heroin song, “Needle Of Death”. The pair are reunited on this sombre, quietly chilling album closer, with Jansch on stunning acoustic lead and Pete on electric guitar. “You call yourself a killer boy,” Pete sings, “but all you’re killing is your time. . .”