sat 13/08/2022

Album: Peter Doherty & Frédéric Lo - The Fantasy Life Of Poetry & Crime | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Peter Doherty & Frédéric Lo - The Fantasy Life Of Poetry & Crime

Album: Peter Doherty & Frédéric Lo - The Fantasy Life Of Poetry & Crime

A bohemian dreamer ruefully takes stock, supported by Gallic tunes

Pete Doherty became a hunted man as he was falling apart, lent tabloid notoriety by his dissolute romance with Kate Moss.

The Libertines were based on more solid ground at first - rickety ideals of old England and intimate rock’n’roll community with fans, fed by a mulch of old Graham Greene paperbacks and Hancock’s Half Hour tapes, Romantic poets and Smiths records.

Doherty’s addictions holed that good ship long ago. In the years before The Libertines reunited, I’d seen a Babyshambles gig teeter right on the edge of dangerous chaos – thrilling, because it didn’t quite tip over – and seen Doherty hold the Hackney Empire rapt for hours with his songs and acoustic guitar. Still, his musical stature stays moot. His illness has been inseparable from his art, perhaps providing its papery, approximate quality; those lyrics of spidery, scribbled pungency, yearningly sung, all fragility and plucked phrases, solid poetic ground not sought or found.

This collaboration with French musician Frédéric Lo came at a tender time for Doherty, off heroin for six months, but unsure if he could still write. Lo provided the music, kickstarting the singer’s lyrics. The collaboration was consummated in a Norman house, Cateuil, Doherty’s muse and bloodstream scrubbed clean in an inversion of the Stones’ smack-rotten, tumbledown Exile On Main Street sessions in Nellcôte.

The words are often confessional and cathartic, the voice close-miked, breathily present and exposed. Frequently addressing twenty years of heroin addiction, ruefulness is overwhelmed by hopeful resolve. In “The Monster”, where guitar and voice proceed as if picking their way over strewn rubble, addiction is a personalised comfort. “The best-laid plans can oft go to fuckery,” “The Epidemiologist” unimprovably begins; yet “hope that is dope still can be planted…ships that are sunken still can hold treasure”. In the first of two explicit pandemic songs, “Yes I Wear A Mask”, the slow murmured stretch of syllables reveals Doherty's MO: “I sing the sweetest, saddest songs/To cloud all of my wrongs.”

“The Ballad of…” matches both men’s strengths, Doherty’s impacted lingo following Lo’s falling keyboard melody (“someone get chop-chopped/someone get nut-jobbed”), before the music gains romantic grandeur, and the singer makes his regretful exit, taking himself “high and away”. Perhaps Lo’s greatest contribution, beyond Doherty’s sheer pleasure in fulfilling Gallic fantasies, is his pop structures. “You Can’t Keep It From Me Forever” deliberately draws on the chiming pop single strengths of Morrissey’s early solo work with Stephen Street (the producer was frustrated his own sturdy Doherty album, Grace/Wastelands [2009], was undervalued).

The album closes movingly. “Abe Wassenstein” is a traditional troubadour’s elegy for Alan Wass, a Doherty friend who didn’t survive their hectic lives, here offered a fumbled prayer over the guitar’s squeak and scrape. “Far From The Madding Crowd” mourns lockdown. Over Lo’s lonely piano, Pete Doherty feels stranded, pleading: “Where am I supposed to sing my song?”

Like Primal Scream’s recent reboot with Jehnny Beth, The Fantasy Life Of Poetry & Crime gives Pete Doherty another chance. He’ll likely always be more worshipper and victim of the Romantic bohemian life than crucial practitioner, offering magpie sketches, not magnum opuses. This album’s new, wistful self-knowledge and renewed pleasure in language is anyway welcome. It’s a relief he’s still here dreaming.

Addressing twenty years of heroin addiction, ruefulness is overwhelmed by hopeful resolve

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Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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