What’s saddest about the Libertines’ cofounder Pete Doherty’s addiction – other than the essential, most personal tragedy of a young man destroying his life – is that his talents as a rock star extend way past his notoriety as a drug-addicted, model-dating, bacchanalian performer who cares even less about himself than he does about his bandmates. For starters, Doherty has a great voice, one that’s full and strong without sounding hard or mannered. His songwriting, too, is remarkable, as can even be witnessed on this poorly produced, offhandedly recorded side project. But mostly, this record is yet another reason to wish that people with real talent would stop throwing it away.
Demos were improved upon on the underrated self-titled sophomore release from the Libertines, but those same sessions produced the first versions of many of the songs on Down in Albion, and each one is worse for the journey. “Albion,” one of the best tracks from the Babyshambles sessions, has been turned into some god-awful sing-along. And are those really moaning zombies on “Back From the Dead?” I don’t get it. “Fuck Forever” has a certain appeal, one that can hardly extend past the basic draw of its title, and “The 32 of December” does the Clash-style punk thing well enough, but who cares when better songs are mashed into unknown forms and a better band waits in the wings for Doherty to get his act together?
Seeing him live is the real pleasure. He commands the stage like few of his generation, and his stubborn intent to have a good time for all is a shining example of the power that can be at one singer’s fingertips. That power might burn away in the next few volatile years. There are, of course, hopes of the Libertines getting back together, of Doherty at least putting out a record that fulfills his promise and vaults him up into the A-list of rock stars. But the only concern right now is that of seeing this kid through to the other end of what he is going through. Buying his shoddily conceived side project is only going to encourage him.
Interview: The Libertines [A little volatility doesn’t hurt]