What can you say about Pete Doherty that has not already been said? There is rarely a dull moment in the life of Babyshambles’ frontman, but unfortunately his drug-fueled antics have always detracted from his talent as a musician. While Doherty is certainly not the first artist to have fallen foul of addiction, his media profile has made it seemingly impossible for many to recognise that he is a very gifted songwriter.
As is usually the way, there have been many up and downs for Doherty in the six years since Babyshambles released their excellent second album, Shotter’s Nation, including the death of his friend Amy Winehouse, a brief reformation of The Libertines and his first solo album. But while Doherty’s world revolves around unpredictability, the return of Babyshambles with third album Sequel To The Prequel is a reminder of why many continue to persist with him.
Opener Fireman bursts out of the blocks with the sort of urgency and immediacy that conjures up memories of The Libertines at their very best. The song, which has been part of Babyshambles’ live set for many years, is the ideal way to announce their return, with a flurry of fervent guitars and a spiky punk beat, as Doherty nonchalantly sings: “It’s breakfast time/ have a pot of wine/ sucking on a bone/ chewing on a microphone.”
It’s followed by the beautifully melodic single Nothing Comes To Nothing, which was written by guitarist Mik Whitnall, before Doherty added his romantically-tinged lyrics over the delightful riff. Farmer’s Daughter is another highlight, starting off rather innocuously, until one of the most anthemic choruses Doherty has written in a long time kicks in. It’s the sound of a band that are enjoying playing together again.
While there is a clear and marked progression from Shotter’s Nation – something that would be expected after a six year break – there are some tracks on Sequel To The Prequel that could easily have come from the same sessions. Maybeline, in particular, is a tight, three-minute pop track, with a direct guitar riff and an infectious chorus. Then there’s New Pair, which features Doherty’s wistful vocals over a gentler, carefree melody.
Elsewhere, the title track is an almost post-war cabaret style jaunt, including a funky piano keys and a punchy guitar riff, while Doctor No is swarming in nostalgia, with a choir chanting the song’s title over a wandering guitar riff and a ska-influenced beat. Both tracks show something a bit different from Babyshambles, although neither are overly memorable, either.
But just as it seems like the album is losing the momentum built up by its strong opening, the excellent Picture Me In A Hospital chimes in. The song is inspired by bassist Drew McConnell’s bike accident in 2011 – rather than Doherty’s own troubles – and is in many ways the album’s centrepiece. “Picture me in a hospital, where the blood runs cold and the halls are full of undesirables,” Doherty sings, over the yearning, melancholic strings.
There will always be those who write Doherty off, but there is no questioning his songwriting ability and Sequel To The Prequel is a testament to that. However, the record is by no means the Pete Doherty show, with McConnell an increasingly influential figure in some of the album’s best moments, including the impressive Seven Shades of Nothing, which finishes the album off with aplomb.
All in all, Sequel To The Prequel is a consistent and accomplished return from Babyshambles. While it does lack some of the energy of the band’s previous work, there is far more focus from start to finish than is usually present during a record involving Doherty. It’s further proof that when he is surrounded by figures that can give him some sense of structure, the results are more than worth the wait.