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Review: Peter Doherty, Hamburg Demonstrations

The Libertines and ex-Babyshambles frontman returns with his second solo effort Hamburg Demonstrations, following on from the 2009 Grace/ Wastelands. 

The latest LP, rather unsurprisingly judging from its title, was recorded in Hamburg at Clouds Hill Recordings- allegedly Doherty turned up at the studio doorstep unannounced, fell in love with it and subsequently decided to base himself there for the next six months. Perhaps more surprisingly Doherty opted for an 8 Track tape machine to record. So how did Doherty fair with the change of location for his new solo effort?

Well in actual fact, rather well. Admittedly I have become a little sceptical of Doherty’s output nowadays. The Libertines’ 2015 Anthem of the Doomed Youth showed glimpses of the Camden quartet’s brilliance, for instance ‘Heart of the Matter’ was frantically exuberant. However, ultimately Anthem of the Doomed Youth felt misguided, aiming for nostalgia and reinvention yet landed near neither. Combine this with the consistent media attention of Doherty’s battle with drug addiction, my lack of optimism for Hamburg Demonstrations was not illogical.

However, my scepticism was not wrong with the album’s first track “Kolly Kibber”, despite it being a cheerful opening featuring major chords aplenty making it an all-round pleasant listen. It’s just once again forgettable…until the bridge. The bridge features angelic female voices, combining this with Doherty’s crooning vocals it leaves the listener in a heavenly state of tranquility- in fact for a brief moment it seems reminiscent of Wolfman’s (featuring Doherty) 2004 hit “For Lovers”.

“Hell To Pay At The Gates of Heaven”, is a particularly poignant point of the album. Doherty wrote the 2:40 piece following the Paris attacks of 2015, contriving an ironically upbeat melody backing cogent lyrics “Come on boys choose your weapon / J-45 or AK-47?” It’s a similar idea to The Smith’s equally ironic “Girlfriend in a Coma”.  It is a fitting topic for Doherty to address, recently playing the opening shows at the Batalican, in which he held a flag stating “F**k Forever Terrorism”.

Doherty once again doesn’t shy away from particularly bold topics, and on ‘Flags From the Old Regime’ he is rewarded for his audacity. The song is a new recording of ‘Flags of the Old Regime’, released last year, a heartfelt tribute to his late friend Amy Winehouse. Doherty croons “you made your fortune but your broke inside”, over a much smoother and cleaner version of the track. However, the result still feels as emotionally raw as the 2015 version, embodying boldly the torturous effects fame and drugs had on Amy Winehouse and how it led to her tragedy.

My biggest qualm with the album is the vocal delivery. Many perhaps will argue that my claim is unsubstantiated and palm my criticism off as being part of Doherty’s trademark vocal croons. However, to me his delivery feels chaotic, with his pitch sliding inconsistently whilst Doherty slurs his words. Hamburg Demonstrations is relatively minimalistic at moments featuring a simple strummed acoustic guitar, to overrun the music with such delivery feels a real shame. This is exacerbated as Doherty’s lyrics are so potent, making you want to understand the frontman’s thoughts, yet the vocal delivery makes these thoughts hard to comprehend.

Despite this criticism, Hamburg Demonstration’s is a thoroughly worthwhile and compelling listen. The album finishes with jovial ‘The Whole World Is Our Playground’ and lastly the stunning “She is Far”.

Honestly, you feel a sense of sadness when the album has come to an end. Upon completion of the LP you feel like you’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster with Doherty spewing his emotions towards you relentlessly. If you’re willing to take the ride it really does make for a thoroughly rewarding listen.

Hamburg Demonstrations is out on the 2nd December.