Down in Albion

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Throughout his career, Pete Doherty has always been remarkably honest about drawing inspiration from his self-destruction. During his time with the Libertines, his debauchery underscored the band's explosive, teetering-on-the-edge-of-chaos chemistry. But with his post-Libertines group Babyshambles (again, the name is up-front about Doherty's modus operandi), he doesn't just teeter, he jumps right over the edge, and the band's debut album, Down in Albion -- which is also heavily inspired by Doherty's drug use and troubles with the law -- shows that his music, at the very least, is a hollow shell of what it used to be. The album isn't just shambling, it's a mess. It's clear that no control of any kind was in the Babyshambles camp when Down in Albion was recorded: even more so than on the Libertines' albums, Mick Jones' "production" duties seem to consist of just sticking a few microphones into the fray. The results could be called an unflinching audio portrait of the band, but just because Down in Albion is visceral and personal doesn't make it inherently good. Most of the album's songs are barely beyond the sketch level; some of them, like "A'Rebours" and "32nd of December" are like ragged little urchins, starved of the care and focus it would take to flesh out their promising bones. Most of them, though, just sound wasted, in both senses of the word. Brooding, boring junkie tales like "Pipedown" and "8 Dead Boys," with their stumbling performances and drunk-dialed vocals, are an exasperating mess; even the reggae-tinged rhythms and vocals on "Pentonville" and "Sticks and Stones" fail to inject the album with anything memorable. In fact, the middle section of Down in Albion is so embarrassing that it should be used as a PSA, warning bands not to record while intoxicated. Even within the album's murkiness, however, hints of the promise and intermittent brilliance Doherty had in the Libertines can still be heard. Interestingly, the most theatrical tracks on Down in Albion have the most clarity. "La Belle et la Bête," a duet between Doherty and his infamous ex, Kate Moss, recasts the turmoil of their life together as meta-cabaret; "What Katy Did Next" brings back the character of his Libertines songs for a tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale (you can practically see Doherty's finger waggling as he sings, "if you play with fire, you will get burned"). These tracks are miles better than most of Down in Albion's debauched rockers, although "Fuck Forever"'s choruses are rousing enough that you can almost buy into the nihilistic, romantic notion of Doherty alternately escaping and diving into his pain, and "Loyalty Song" is so good that it sounds like it was channeled from some other album. However, Down in Albion just keeps going and going, loaded with so many half-baked songs that it almost feels like a posthumous collection that was enterprisingly released before Doherty actually died. In some ways, this album -- and Doherty's fallout in general -- make it easier to understand why Arctic Monkeys became such a huge success in the U.K.; not only do they borrow from Doherty's poetic punk and give it a working-class, everykid spin, they sound like they practice once in a while and they actually show up to their gigs. Down in Albion, however, is unfortunate proof that you can take the rock & roll ethos too far, and that even nonstop drama gets boring pretty quickly.

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