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Meet Me in Chinatown for Opium and Tea

January 27, 2009, 12:00 am
By Patricia Sauthoff


Pete Doherty is one of those guys who is known more for his life's drama than for his music.

Quick, name a Babyshambles or Libertines song.

Exactly.

Now name a drug he's been arrested for or a model he's dated.

Easy, right?

But in bewteen stints in jail/rehab/etc. Doherty has been recording his latest album Grace/Wasteland and you know what, it's good. Actually, it's great. Sure, it's a 13 song ode to drugs and love, but it's a literate one that purrs with weeping guitar notes, fallen angel vocals and references to Isadora Duncan, big band jazz and the Third Reich (as a metaphor not an endorsement).

"A Little Death Around the Eyes" may be the albums most disturbing track, at least for anyone who has ever crossed path with a little feminist literature. It's chock full of patriarchal bullshit and sexism, such as the chorus, "You'll cook and clean and sew when I tell you to/Dance and screw when I want you too/If I ask you to."

Charming. Really, girls love that stuff don't they? But, like Spank Rock's 2006 YoYoYoYoYo, it's so good musically that [cringe] the sexism is forgivable. As soon as old Pete turns into a jerk the music rises with stringed orchestration and an incredibly sexy riff that sounds like it should be in an early Godard film. These lyrics aren't Doherty asserting his power really, they're him almost begging for some kind of control in life. He's being an asshole about it yes but he's so unsure of himself he might not even be singing to someone else. Doherty comes off more like a little boy emulating some fictionalized standard of gender roles than a man who really believes any woman would ever do those things for him.

Every song on Grace/Wasteland has a vintagy feel, each from a different era or genre which makes the album a musical tour of Doherty's influences without feeling derivative. There's also something soundtrackish about the songs. "Palace of Bones" would play in From Dusk Til Dawn's Titty Twister, "Sheep Skin Tear Away" can accompany the credits on just about any indie romantic comedy (Zach Braff would definitely approve) and "New Love Grows on Trees," with its chorus "if your still alive when your still alive/should I kill you/like you asked me too" can be the theme to a biopic of Amy Winehouse.

Occasionally Doherty gets a little mumbly in his singing but he's surprisingly lucid and human for a guy that seems barely functional in the real world. There's a real introspection to him that doesn't point directly to the events that have made him famous. Instead he surrounds it all in a fog of metaphor that makes the gossip columns irrelevant and shows a guy who genuinely is a tender artist with a sensitive heart. In fact, it's kind of heartbreaking that the guy's life is such a public mess. His brilliance will never outshine his pulverized persona in such a gossip obsessed world.

Grace/Wasteland comes out on March 24 and hopefully Doherty will start to get the attention his music deserves when it does. After a few listens thus far he's not too far behind Animal Collective for an album that I'm pretty sure I'll be listening to at year's end.

 

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