Pete Doherty did his best to deglamorize the myth of the poetic, glamorously wasted rock star with boringly bad behavior -- and, even worse, boring music. Babyshambles' debut, Down in Albion, was mostly a mess with a few moments of stranded brilliance, while The Blinding was a little more focused, but still lackluster. At this point, the only really shocking thing Doherty and the rest of Babyshambles could do would be to release some consistently good music. Darned if they didn't with Shotter's Nation, an album that shows that Babyshambles have learned from their stumbling baby steps. It doesn't outstay its welcome, as there are no detours into pointless reggae, and best of all, the band sounds like it's having fun -- much more fun, in fact, than when Doherty and crew sounded like they were three sheets to the wind while making Down in Albion. Doherty sounds more mischievous than self-destructive on these songs, and he's infinitely more appealing as a cheeky, brazen storyteller than a despondent junkie. "Baddie's Boogie," a sunny, strummy tale of a crumbling marriage, is one of his most sharply written and sung songs since his Libertines days; on "Deft Left Hand," he rattles off bon mots like "Went from cheery vagabondage to cold-blooded luxury in four years" effortlessly.
The rest of the band, and the rest of Shotter's Nation, follows Doherty's clearer-eyed lead. Without a doubt, this is the most produced music of his career: "Carry on Up the Morning" opens with ragged riffs and clamoring drums, but soon resolves itself into something significantly more polished, but the cleaner surroundings suit these songs well. There's just enough grit to bring excitement to roller coaster rockers like "Side of the Road" and "Delivery" (one of Shotter's Nation's few brooding moments), but not so much that they sound like they've been wallowing in the gutter. The band's more pulled-together sound works even better on the album's flights of fancy. Doherty indulges his love of cabaret on "There She Goes" and "French Dog Blues" (which was co-written by Doherty, Ian Brown, and Kate Moss), and the results are charming -- a word that didn't apply to him or his music in quite a while. "Unstookie Titled" could even be called sophisticated; its droning guitars and subtle tension and release, not to mention its clever allusion to "Fuck Forever"'s verse melody, moves Babyshambles' sound forward in a natural but intriguing way. Despite a few songs that lag a bit, this is easily Babyshambles' best work yet. Maybe that's not setting the bar incredibly high, especially compared to Doherty's Libertines work, but it's still a big step in the right direction. A small but very enjoyable triumph, Shotter's Nation suggests that there is still hope for Doherty's music to evolve past the live-fast, die-young ideal.