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Shotter's Nation: The NME review

Well.... just have a read.

Pete Doherty: the only internationally renowned rock star on the face of the planet to have avoided prison hundreds of times, shacked up with a supermodel, burgled his best mate's flat, been the proud parent of some adorable crack-addicted kittens and still think the world's got it in for him. An early example of his victim complex would be The Libertines' 'Branding Sessions' from 2004, where you'll hear Pete sneaking the lines "I've read every review/They all prefer you" into a solo take of 'Can't Stand Me Now'.For the latest instalment, see the sleeve of Babyshambles' second album 'Shotters Nation'. It's based on a painting by Henry Wallis, depicting the young 18th century forger of medieval poetry, Thomas Chatterton. Penniless, derided by the art community and public at large for his fraudulent verses and dead by his own hand by the age of 17. It wasn't until seven years after his demise that his romantic peers - Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Rossetti - realised they might have read him all wrong and started commemorating him in their own poems. Look him up on Wikipedia and he's filed under "icon of unacknowledged genius". And it doesn't take the genius of Chatterton to work out why Pete is so obsessed by that story and this painting of him in particular, a different version of which has already appeared at the front of The Books Of Albion, his recently published diaries.OK, so we can't tell you how they'll remember 'Shotters Nation' in 2020 (seven years after Doherty shuffles off this mortal coil, if the rock star mortality gauge in last week's NME is anything to go by), but what we can say is that this album marks Pete's last opportunity to play hard-done-by. Because if he can't get it right this time around with his ever-faithful band, the big guns record company (after debut album 'Down In Albion', Babyshambles left Rough Trade for major label Parlophone) and the producer legend (more of which later) then it doesn't matter how many people have been tabloid brainwashed to like Carl, Kate and your kittens over you, you've still bollocksed it all up all by yourself.What we can also tell you, confidently, is that is nowhere near the case. Though, we hope, 'Shotters Nation' isn't his magum opus, it's still infinitely more consistent, listenable and likely to get played on the radio than its predecessor ever was. However this isn't necessarily always a good thing. Let's start with the bad news: there are no so-harrowingly-beautiful-they're-practically-holy big moments on 'Shotters Nation' like there were on the first album. But - and it's a big but - listening back to that most ravaged of debuts now, it's not quite clear whether said big moments ('Albion', 'Loyalty Song' the "and wheeeyyyeeeeyyynnn they make you toe the liiiiiyyyyyiiiinnn" line from 'Fuck Forever') would ever have soared quite so chest-beatingly high if it wasn't just in contrast to the half-baked, smacked-out dross that surrounded them on every side. And certainly we're not about to penalise this album for being more coherent than the first one and having 10 (out of 12) decent tunes instead of three-and-a-half (out of 16).Of course, even a casual Doherty enthusiast will know that the man works better in a partnership than alone (quality control, I believe it's called) and 'Shotters Nation' is very much a team effort - both with the freakishly reliable and criminally underrated Drew McConnell, Mik Whitnall and Adam Ficek line-up of Babyshambles, and producer Stephen Street. It's not until you compare 'Shotters Nation' with anything Pete's been involved with before that you realise just how much Mick Jones must have let him get away while he was orchestrating both Libertines albums and 'Down In Albion'. Structure, tight pop hooks and the refusal to let the band record a song until they'd actually finished writing it are probably the three things the one-time Blur and Smiths producer will be most widely credited for bringing to Olympic Studios this springtime.But towering above all of these are the changes he's wrought on Pete's voice. Gone are the nails-in-the-groin mewlings and say-what mumblings of 'Down In Albion', replaced with all the androgynous and coquettish sensuality that indie-dom first swooned for back in 2002 when The Libs' debut single 'What A Waster' came out. Christ knows how a voice can sound doe-eyed, but this one certainly can - and it's instantly recognisable from the very first startled inflection. If you had to give Street just one standing ovation for this record, it would be for turning Pete into one of the most recognisable and idiosyncratic singers around. Just, you might say, like he did with Damon Albarn and Morrissey previously.What that voice spends a lot of time saying on 'Shotters Nation' is that music is the only medium in which the ever so hard-done-by soul attached to it ever stands a hope of being understood. "Giving up trying to explain/I just put it in a song instead", goes opener 'Carry On Up The Morning', while 'Delivery''s chorus occasionally warps into "This song will deliver me/Straight from the harshness of misery/'Cos this song's a delivery/Straight from the heart to you". But scrape a little harder and you'll notice that 'Delivery' is probably also a thinly-veiled reference to intravenous drug use and what he's actually having trouble explaining on 'Carry On Up The Morning' is that "it's too easy getting out of my head". This is echoed on 'You Talk', the song that follows, with the line "No I never, ever said it was clever/I just like getting leathered", before he sees a little sense and astutely assesses his harem of hangers-on and so-called friends in 'UnBiloTitled' - "You said that you loved me, why don't you fuck off?/Anyone would think you're only ripping me off". Poetry in motion it is not. And that's before you get to the oddly touching line about Mik putting his trousers back on.Luckily, all four tracks mentioned above - from the effortless nod to The Kinks that is 'Delivery' to the camp Britpop posturing of 'You Talk' - are strong enough to overshadow any bungled lyrics. And being able to celebrate a Babyshambles album for its musicality and vocal performances rather than its wordplay is both a novel and reassuring place to be. 'Unstookie Titled' is the blissed-out, acoustic prequel to 'Albion' (it even borrows the repetition "one and the same, one and the same") that comes closest to the - however artificially magnified - sublime peaks of their debut. 'Crumb Begging Baghead' has the chorus Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have been looking for since 'Spread Your Love'. Meanwhile 'Carry On Up The Morning' is one of the strongest openers of any album we've heard all year - all the prior talk of the 'Shambles coming unstuck without the co-writing credits and experimental guitars of former member Patrick Walden are immediately dispelled in two bars of Mik's cheerfully derailed, mod-punk squall. And as closers go, you'd be hard pushed to find anything that keeps haunting for quite as long after the CD has finished whirring as the impossibly fragile folk-busk of 'Lost Art Of Murder' with '60s minstrel Bert Jansch.Even the moments where they don't quite nail it sound like sure-fire hits next to the quality of filler on 'Down In Albion'. 'French Dog Blues' would be a contender for the song of Pete's career if it weren't for a chorus that sounds like it was written and stuck on in the fag break between takes. 'There She Goes' slinks along, all double-bass and brush-sticks, believing itself to be a dusky descendant of The Cure's 'The Lovecats', but sounds more like something from Cats the musical. Elsewhere though, Pete-does-vaudeville is a thing to be encouraged, such as his acid catcall of "how's your life with a washed-up wife?" on 'Baddie's Boogie' - part Widow Twanky, part the kind of lowly elocution that presumably comes with hanging out with Kate Moss for too long. In fact, all of the above swipes are minor in comparison to the real story here. Which is that while this isn't the perfect phoenix-like resurrection some quarters were whispering about at the beginning of the summer, it's the evidence the fans, the haters and Mik, Drew and Adam, no doubt, needed to be convinced that Babyshambles are more than a flexi-time evening job for their frontman. There's loads to love about 'Shotters Nation', but what's really exciting is how much it feels like there's still more to come.So having established all that, it's time for the inescapable question: how long until Pete packs in this vanity project and reforms The Libertines for good? Well, it looks like it's the last time we'll need to answer that in a Babyshambles review because, apart from 'There She Goes', the other almost-clanger is 'Side Of The Road' - an agitated rehash of 'The Boy Looked At Johnny'; the only song here that The Libs could have written and one of the weakest of the bunch. Sure, he might have taken his time about it, but 'Shotters Nation' is where the world's most hard-done-by man finally shoots his albatross and proves he can be just as startlingly creative and considered even when that Carl BarĂ¢t's not in the room. Hear that, Pete? We like it. Now just work on those lyrics and save us the woe-is-me routine next time.
Rating: 8/10

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