March 19, 2009
Peter Doherty | Grace/Wastelands
2009 | Astralwerks
A fetching picture of a feline-masked Kate Moss on the cover of a stray issue of Interview – one of those dusty, months-old volumes that resurfaces at the top of a pile for no apparent reason – reminded me of Pete Doherty. During his own personal troubles (throughout most of the 21st century), Doherty has been very publicly at war with himself, the occupier and the occupied in a time and place of heavy Moss-petting, drug use, brief imprisonment, creepy YouTube clips, and career suicide attempts. For most of the past decade, it has been impossible not to hear tell of Pete(-er, as he now prefers)’s romanticized battles with the trappings of fame. It has, however, been possible to ignore the core reason for his fame – his musical talent and his (un-junked) charismatic potential.
So it came as something of a surprise when the news popped up on my screen – the product of one of those stray press links that appear in a sidebar for no apparent reason – that Peter released a new album this week, Grace/Wastelands. Maybe I just haven’t been following the movements of the pop culture operation the way I should be, or maybe things have gotten to the point where Doherty’s music isn’t, in itself, newsworthy. Maybe we prefer the story of his embattled life better than his actual life’s work – which is the thing that mends what the other thing eventually seeks to destroy.
And it came as an even greater surprise when I listened to the entirety of Grace/Wastelands on MySpace Music and found a production not only at peace with itself, sonically kept from the wolves that have hounded Doherty’s recent past, but really good to boot. Unlike his last two efforts with Babyshambles, this album comes together as a unit. Its acoustic guitar-driven tracks are freed from any sense of discipline by Doherty’s wayward, accented vocals – no longer baying or barking, but instead coaxing, almost crooning. And the album shows off Doherty’s real lyrical ability, with a now-focused eye on the historical state of Britannia (“1939 Returning”), a longing eye toward the symbolic simplicity and escape of Arcadia (“Arcady”), and a backwards eye still fixed on love’s past (any number of tracks). Overall, it’s an appealingly pacific solo debut from an artist who’s engineered too much flack. Let’s hope Peter can keep the peace. When creating work like this, he deserves another chance.
by Meghan Roe