Hugs and Kisses: Pete Doherty, Babyshambles, Shotter’s Nation


This is Hugs and Kisses #13, a weekly Sound of the City column from UK-based music writer Mr. Everett True, author of Nirvana: The Biography (da Capo Press) and publisher of Plan B Magazine. This week, he writes about the same shit as everyone else.


The Outbursts of Everett True

Don’t know much ‘bout him.

Know he’s someone famous. That’s obvious. Every time I pick up a free paper in London, there he is, leaving or entering someone’s house or party or courtroom, the accompanying copy detailing his latest attempt to ‘stay clean’ or failure to do same, or concerning his model ex’s similar behaviour. Seems like hot air to me. Who cares who does what drugs, what business is that of anyone’s? Who cares who hangs out with who, whom dates whom, less you’re personally involved. I’m not — couldn’t give a crap for the trappings of celebrity culture. Clearly, someone near or closely connected to Pete Doherty does, though: it ain’t by happenstance or sheer paparazzi vindictiveness he’s getting all those column inches. Seems like a regular ol’ roustabout. Guess the press always needs a few of those, to help keep the press going. [Shrugs.]

As I said, don’t know much ‘bout it — ‘bout the only thing I know about Pete Doherty and his band Babyshambles is that they sometimes put in outrageously shambolic live performances, draw from a deep well of Britpop (dating all the way back to The Kinks via Blur and Primal Scream) and like to play ‘intimate’ gigs, with support bands not usually dredged up from the bottom-feeding end of the music industry. And this, I like. Of course I like. The entire point of good rock’n’roll music is that it’s spontaneous, unpredictable, as liable to tip arse-first as it is to enthrall. The greatest art is often the most embarrassing. Seems to me that Pete Doherty — whatever his private habits are, however much he might be ridiculed in the press by men twice his age — understands this. And this, I like too.

So yeah: I thought I’d give his new album — second, I believe — a listen when it showed up. (I never cared much for his previous band The Libertines, incidentally: suspected they were way too much into the posturing boy-boy rock of The Clash for them to ever really connect with me.) A proper listen, that is… I had more than an inkling that, despite the fondness of Pete Doherty’s management and record company and producer (Cranberries/Smiths/Blur/Kaiser Chiefs/mainstream ‘indie’ man Stephen Street) to trace a lineage between Pete Doherty and trad rock’n’roll so direct that even Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney can champion his work without feeling a twinge of discomfort, Doherty’s muse actually lies far closer to my own cherished pained underground romantic Dan Treacy (Television Personalities). In other words, that he’s literate, soulful, prone to messing up his own career up for no obvious reasons, smart enough to know that the male swagger of his peers is a pile of shit, is welcome to Outsider influences (if he ever encounters any), would like to be a ‘normal’ but has no real idea how to go about it… and so on. Or, as my wife more neatly put it; “Babyshambles sound like a cutie band” (cf: C86, the Pastels, Jonathan Richman circa 1977).

Well, don’t know about that from this music going down here. It’s hard to get past Stephen Street’s trademark little flourishes of (Johnny) Marr-esque guitar and shimmering chords and indie-dance (Blur/Charlatans) drumbeats and generally remarkably clean sound — and indeed the whole affair sounds way more 1994 (Street’s heyday) than it does 2007, but Doherty’s undeniable charm and zestful swagger and smart way round a phrase and hook shine through in more than enough places for none of this to matter too much. I mean, I enjoy the Blur-esque chirpy Cockney knees-up and maudlin acoustic numbers, and especially the wonderful rockabilly strut of confessional ‘There She Goes.’

I mean, of course Doherty is Dan Treacy Lite (as in Miller Lite) — he’s far too focused and with it (here at least) to compete with our man on any serious level — but I can’t helping feeling that that is little to do with him and more to do with the way he’s been so ferociously marketed as a teeny bop Keith Richards, The Rock Star You Have To Love Because Your Parents Hate Him (stereotyping will always reduce the sharpest of humans) and that, left to his own devices (which he will never be: ironic, really) he could turn into one of (mainstream) pop’s few mavericks.

But for now, it’s a very decent indie pop record and it fulfills its purpose very neatly, and everyone’s happy with the situation and hell, I don’t even know why I’m bothering to listen to such a fucking clearly mainstream artist when there’s a thousand more interesting and ‘out there’ people whom no one ever focuses on. I guess, it’s just sometimes… I’m a sucker for pop music.

Hugs And Kisses Top 5

What Mr. Everett True is listening to this week

1. Pylon, “Volume” (from the DFA compilation Gyrate Plus)
The last great unknown band of the No Wave era finally afforded the re-evaluation they deserve. Just ask R.E.M. (although I’d rather you didn’t).

2. The Slits, “Or What It Is?” (from the Blast First Petite album Return Of The Giant Slits)
The Slits’ debut album Cut is one of the cornerstones of The Music I Love. This is even better than Cut.

3. Misty’s Big Adventure, “How Did You Manage To Get Inside My Head?” (from the Grumpy Fun album Funny Times)
Brass and toy noises explode in a way not heard since the human musical box in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

4. Violet Violet, “Kissy Kissy” (from the NR One album Bitchbox)
Sleater-Kinney, seen through an entirely English filter.

5. Babyshambles, “Lost Art Of Murder” (from the Parlophone album Shotter’s Nation)
Laconically, almost lazily executed brilliance.