The world has had just about enough of Pete Doherty. At a time when even his most ardent fans from back in the days of the Libertines have become disillusioned, his debut solo album was perhaps his last chance to be taken seriously as a musician. And it’s a step in the right direction.
Doherty’s poetic lyrics form the focus of the songs, and justifiably so: here lies his strength as a songwriter. Gone are the contrived verse-chorus-verse structures of Babyshambles’ last effort, replaced by meandering melodies which suit his languid reminiscences of an idealised England.
He’s not a born singer, and if you don’t like Doherty’s voice anyway, you’d be better giving Grace/Wastelands a miss. The vocals are high in the mix and sometimes irritate the most patient ear, such as when first single ‘Last of the English Roses’ (otherwise a highlight of the album) dissolves into an almost incomprehensible French mumble.
Despite the emphasis on lyrics, Grace/Wastelands delivers a few good hummable melodies, of which upbeat opener ‘Arcady’ boasts one of the best. Blur’s Graham Coxon deserves a nod for his contribution as guitarist, and producer Stephen Street blends the songs well whilst retaining the stripped-back nature of the album.
Musically, Grace/Wastelands travels through various genres, with jazz chords surprisingly prominent. Piano-led ‘Sweet By and By’ particularly stands out due to its different instrumentation, but the songs nevertheless gel well together, bound by the lyrical theme of English wistfulness and the general relaxed pace of the record.
Doherty’s first solo attempt will not win over any new fans – hardly surprising, given that the vast majority of the material has been kicking around in demo form for around a decade. To those who haven’t yet written him off completely, however, it is actually rather charming. Chilled out and quaintly nostalgic – and thankfully devoid of the clumsy drug references and self-pity which have blighted Pete’s efforts with Babyshambles – Grace/Wastelands is not the disappointment that you might have (understandably) feared.
It doesn’t present a new dawn for Doherty’s musical career, but it does unearth a few gems which remind us why we liked him in the first place. If he can continue in this vein, Pete might just manage to redeem himself to those who have always given him the benefit of the doubt.