Peter Doherty - Grace/Wastelands

Doherty's solo debut has its share of charms...
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There was a time you couldn’t go a day without seeing Peter Doherty one way or another. There he was, staring from the front page of a tabloid ‘paper; an hour or so later he’s on a website, the headline another conveying the message that he’s failed to show for a gig in some east London shitehole.

But recently the man formerly known as Pete (it’s not clear why the ‘r’ has crept into the solo album equation; a mark of maturity, perhaps?) has been generating column inches for the right reasons, i.e. ones related entirely to music – the making of it, primarily.

‘Grace/Wastelands’ collects together material written across a number of years, and as such certain hardcore quarters of the man’s expansive fanbase are sure to have heard a selection. And, for an album with so much attention sure to be attracted its way, it’s remarkable in its lo-fi feel – despite the presence of big-name producer Stephen Street, there’s no slapping on of studio gloss across these twelve offerings.

Which, at times, is an approach that does Doherty’s songwriting few favours, as at its slightest ‘Grace/Wasteland’ is a frustratingly lethargic listen, the feeling being that if our protagonist can’t muster enthusiasm enough for his compositions to get through them without a half-asleep drawl infecting his vocals – take opener ‘Arcadie’ and ‘Salome’ as examples – then we can’t be bothered to listen to them in any detail. And if you do, there’s not much to note in terms of lyrical singularity – Peter does what Peter does, and what Peter does many a man has done before.

‘I Am The Rain’ finds a single analogy pushed to the very precipice of banality, its teetering on the edge of give-a-fuck the sole redeeming element of a track so lifeless it’ll be a miracle if fans don’t skip it after but a couple of cursory listens. ‘Sweet By And By’ possesses a charming swagger, all tooting horns and tinkled pianos, but its knees-up shtick is out of place on a record that sets its sights on being a somewhat serious collection.

Far better is the woozily romantic ‘1939 Returning’, its subtle strings stirring parts most tracks here can’t reach, and the Dot Allison-featuring ‘Sheepskin Tearaway’, a tender duet that threatens to stand out as the album’s greatest offering if it wasn’t for the solid-gold Bond-theme-like ‘Broken Love Song’ – by a long way, this is the best song Doherty’s been a creative presence on since the demise of The Libertines. Closer ‘Lady, Don’t You Fall Backwards’ is also a highlight, its vocal sweetly sincere in its sentiments.

But despite the occasional glimpses of a genuinely mercurial talent ‘Grace/Wastelands’ offers, too much of this solo debut treads woefully predictable water. But then again, its maker said at the outset that it lacked a commercial edge – read our interview for more – so maybe its purpose is simply to serve as an ideas dump, freeing Peter up for whatever occupies his musical mindset next time around. It may just be a necessary step towards something truly classic. Perhaps.

And if not, heck, there will be worse records released this year touted as something of significance. By quietly going about his business and not shouting about this solo album from the rooftops, Doherty has ensured it can’t be too harshly rounded upon by critics who were desperate to get their poison pens tearing up the page. Indeed, he’s done himself a favour: if it doesn’t really matter much to him how it goes down with Joe Public, why should it bother us?

That it doesn’t at all is a sign that it’s not half as bad as it could have been.

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