I'm In Yr Junk Drawer Eatin Yr Pre-Romantics
New Babyshambles album: tremendous. Plenty of people can't tolerate the image of the junkie poet, although - may God bless their children and send them all plum puddings at Christmas - the NME don't mind if they do, thanks. There's a huge essay waiting to be written about how the British music press, for all their unseemly rubbernecking, do seem able to tolerate a pretty high level of ambiguity when discussing thief/dope fiend/lead singer Pete Dougherty: when he gets arrested, they jump down his throat, but they don't then turn around and dismiss his work in order to look righteous. They spill a lot of ink condemning him for the way he lives his life, but, lacking the puritan strain, they're willing to give a thieving junkie's work an honest listen. I suspect, though I haven't got the energy to spend a lot of time trying to prove it, that this dynamic is indicative of some pretty heavy cultural differences. I further suspect that in a rocking out contest between Babyshambles and the five leading American practioners of indie-ish Rock And Roll Properly So-Called, Babyshambles would snuff the competition without having even fully woken up: the band plays together with a loose, confident ease that's reminiscent of a bunch of great 70s California bands who I'm not even going to name because y'all got the wrong ideas about them and can't see past your preconceptions, and lyrically Doherty is so comfortably ahead of anybody who might be considered competition that he doesn't even feel the need to articulate his words. This isn't to say he's the best lyricist alive; he isn't; but the terrain he carves out for himself ("never surrender to flattery/frown on, come down on duplicity/and above all, my son/take the money and run") is both unique and worthwhile. It's part Morrissey - the self-deprecating asides, the ability to beat his critics at their own game before they can open their mouths - and part (yes, because across the pond everybody's saying it, and because it's true) Ray Davies - those vivid personal descriptions of both high and low daily life which announce to an American listener: "It's nice if you like this, but this is not about you."
Which, you know, may be - is - refreshing, but it's the whiff of Johnny Thunders that keeps the effort from coming off like an exercise: the feeling that for the people involved, this counts somehow: Doherty snotty and angry and despairing in "Baddies Boogie," keening "lousy life!" again and again in an isolation booth somewhere. The music, the phrasing, the lazy ease of the secretly gorgeous vocal lines. "I'll surely lay down and die if I can't lay by your ssssside." Stephen Street's production, sun coming into the canyon. Keeper, keeper, keeper.
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