Album Review: Pete Doherty - Hamburg Demonstrations
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'Kolly Kibber', an opening track reminiscent of The Coral, gives way to an album with a varied, balanced and consistently gripping offering. Pete Doherty's new album saw him realise a long standing dream, to record in Hamburg, Germany - and the result is essential listening.
Following last year’s announcement that Doherty had successfully come through his rehabilitation programme this album has the poignancy of being not just an important moment in Doherty’s musical career, but in his life.
Hamburg Demonstrations is equally poignant in its tone, but it’s an effect that’s achieved without becoming a maudlin, self-pity record. Instead it’s a thoughtful and memorable return, littered with cheeky, punchy moments.
'Birdcage', has a distinctly Arctic Monkeys feel though in places it’s also the poppiest that Hamburg Demonstrations gets. The track was previously performed by Doherty’s band Babyshambles but feels better suited to the stripped back version that appears in his latest solo album. The lyric “only love can heal the sickness of celebrity” feels like a portrait of the man in recovery. Doherty certainly knows ‘the sickness of celebrity’…
Hamburg Demonstrations is consistently lyrically interesting. Thoughtful lyrical composition delivered in Doherty’s signature, somewhat frantic style, is affecting. At times cheeky, dismissive and full of analogy, as in ‘The Whole World is Our Playground’. Elsewhere the album is distinctly tragic.
'Flags From the Old Regime', an Amy Winehouse tribute piece, is a tragic ode to addiction with echoes of The Courteeners at their most solemn. Equally ‘Hell to Pay at the Gates of Heaven’ was written in the wake of the Paris terror attacks and seems to lament what Doherty sees as an increasingly violent society.
‘I Don’t Love Anyone (But You’re Not Just Anyone)’ is the album's centrepiece and it earns its place, appearing on the album twice. Its duplication doesn’t feel like a bad decision though, or like a lazy way of filling the record. Two different versions of the headline track offer different readings and fit exceedingly well within the composition of the album. ‘Version 2’ comes slap bang in the middle of the album and is a sombre minimalistic take on the track, while the main version appears later with all bells and whistles, (not literally, I hasten to add,) of a big, memorable, headline track. Whichever version you prefer it’s guaranteed - that heartfelt chorus will stick in your head for some time.
Hamburg Demonstrations offers momentum and reflection. The poignant undertones of Doherty’s rehabilitation feel implicitly ever-present. Fans will be hoping this strong comeback album goes hand in hand with a strong recovery that, this time, avoids relapse into addiction and scandal. Purely and simply though, this album is a well-crafted, lyrically arresting and thoroughly enjoyable listen.