Oh the irony. Faced with the music, which is what the world should always have known Pete Doherty for, and the poetry of the lyrics, which would always have sucked you in further than the melody would have carried you alone, the tabloid press has suddenly realised that Potty Pete isn’t only about feeding spliffs to penguins and cocaine to kittens. He’s actually about damn good tunes.
You might argue that the man is a genius manipulator beyond the ken of mere mortals. It was a brilliant plan: in the downtime between one album and the next, shag a supermodel, ingest the world opium harvest single-handedly (apart from the bit you gave to the kittens), bait the tabloids to within and inch of their lives and then, when the world and its Daily Mail-reading maiden aunt knows who you are, chuck over Miss Moss, sort yourself out, head into the studio and dazzle them with your music.
It would have been a brilliant plan, except that there’s one very important ingredient missing: the gossamer-fragile, doomed romance and doe-eyed car crash beauty that thrust Pete into our hearts has gone AWOL. He’s ‘sorted himself out’ all right, but was that ever part of the appeal? Was that ever the ending we wanted? What great poet, what great romantic hero of our times has ever been better after they ‘sorted themselves out’?
Nay, the irony is that a Pete Doherty without the chaos is a Pete Doherty neutered. Nowhere on Shotter’s Nation is there a song to rival the sweeping decay of Albion. Nowhere is there a song to kick back at the world as hard as Fuck Forever. There is no lost romance of What Katy Did Next, nor even anything as catchy as Killamangiro.
So what if Down In Albion sounded like an unfinished demo? So what if its 16 tracks were chaotic, half-finished, in places a mess? Did you become a better person after your mother told you to tidy your room and get your hair cut and you sheepishly complied? For those of us who stuck two fingers up to the instruction, Pete was our hero. The one who went as far as we did and then farther than we ever dared.
That was why we loved him. We didn’t want him to crash and burn (no, really, we didn’t) but neither did we want him to tidy himself up, sort himself out and start turning out pleasant, catchy, but dear God, decidedly average rock tunes, either.
Shotter’s Nation has no stand-out moments. Delivery is about the best of the bunch, but it’s no rival to anything The Libertines ever did, and it doesn’t make up for Down In Albion’s faults.
Its worst crime? Four listens in and too many of the tracks are forgettable. Offer me a handful of dirty fivers and I couldn’t hum most of them for you. You listened to Down In Albion and you cried with it. Shotter’s Nation is background music.
So Pete has cleaned up. The tabloids have noticed, to their apparently genuine surprise, that he’s a talented musician. Maybe now he’ll carry on, producing average pop albums, into his dotage, a Paul McCartney for our times. But the romance, the pain, the love and the raw, bleeding emotion has gone.
I’ll bet this was an ending to the story no-one predicted.