Essential New Music: Peter Doherty’s “Hamburg Demonstrations”

Word is Peter Doherty, one-time headline-grabbing Libertines and Babyshambles head who taught Britain’s oughties youth the joys of electric guitars, natty suits and trilbies, had long desired recording in Hamburg for its associations with the Beatles’ legend. Interesting, then, his second solo disc having more to do with “Eleanor Rigby” and post-moptops-and-collarless-suits finery than with greasy quiffs, leather jackets and sweaty amphetamine-stoked versions of “Hippy Hippy Shake.”

Mind you, Doherty’s always been as comfortable with acoustic troubadour excursions as with shambolic garage punk. The acoustic guitar, in fact, seems closer to his heart. Hence, on music-hall-flavored post-Paris-attacks lament “Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven,” the now-30-something narcotized dandy taunts modern 20-somethings, “C’mon, boys: Choose your weapon/J-45 or AK-47.” (The Gibson J-45 was John Lennon’s acoustic of choice.) Elsewhere, he mourns former soulmate Amy Winehouse on “Flags Of The Old Regime,” references both Graham Greene (“Kolly Kibber,” named for the newspaper man whose murder ignites Brighton Rock) and Anais Nin (“A Spy In The House Of Love”) and further sails the good ship Albion to Arcadia while only once directly referring to his life’s mission in the lyrics to “Oily Boker.”

Hearing how Doherty appeared in Hamburg following the most recent Libertines dates promoting last year’s Anthems For Doomed Youth comeback record and materialized at Clouds Hill Recordings unannounced after inquiring about a suitable studio, it’s obvious he still values spontaneity. Yet Hamburg Demonstrations is the most carefully produced and executed music of his career.

—Tim Stegall