It was in the early stages of 2016, the time before we feared the implosion of the world (remember such a time?), 11th February to be precise, I discovered the news that Peter Doherty would release a new solo album. The beguiling poet would follow up his 2009 solo album ‘Grace/Wastelands’ with 2016’s ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ and that for me was a sign 2016 would be a great year. In the final month of this Great Year and drowning in a sea of political and social disappointments, Doherty has grasped onto me exclaiming “I will never let go Jack”, and this album was my rescue boat.
I Don’t Love Anyone (but You’re Not Just Anyone), in all its melancholic romanticity was my first taste of this album. Before its release, I was not as apprehensive as I usually am when a band or artist I adore releases new music. With Peter Doherty, you are wise to never have any preconceptions or expectations as you could end up with an album as chaotic as Up The Bracket or one that delights in reggae like Babyshambles did, or a beautifully weird mix of the both. This single highlighted his ability to find the perfect instrumentals for his lyrics and left me debating whether it was a love song or not, as of present I’m convinced it is. This single begs for Carl Barat’s vocals over it and, so do I. Hamburg Demonstrations version of Flags from the Old Regime captures Doherty’s relationship with Amy Winehouse as perfect as it did back in 2015. The introduction of a more eerie and high pitched sounding guitar paid off as it gave the song more layers of emotion. The music reflected the lyrics perfectly, ‘you have to stand up there in front of the whole wide world, and you don’t feel them songs no more’ accompanied by the instrumentals which gives the listener a feeling of a happy state of isolation as the guitar fades out. A fitting tribute.
Album opener Kolly Kibber was the second single to be released from this album and displays Peter Doherty’s multilingual abilities, he’s just showing off now. This song is an uplifting track which entices the listener into a false sense of security that this album won’t be as dark as you think it would be when Pete has a pen and paper in his hand. The backing vocals compliment his voice and apart from the frantic search for a translator in the middle, it is a nice simple song that even the strongest protester of Doherty would warm to. Down for the Outing is the closest this album gets to the genius of the Babyshambles era. It sounds very gratifying and it would excite me to see this on the setlist at his Manchester date, the staggered climax sets up the chorus which is waiting to be sang back by beer soaked doomed youth. Not as complimenting on the other songs off this album, the drums are used very satisfyingly and perhaps a criticism of Doherty is that he sometimes ignores their importance and opts for a simpler alternative.
By this point I’m still treading the water and very cold although Peters put his coat around me and that has helped a considerable amount, (yes, the comparison-of-2016-to-the-titanic metaphor has continued). If the previous four songs were merely a coat around me, then the song Birdcage is Doherty’s way of informing me he can see the rescue boats headlights. This may be my favourite with its slick sound bass and western guitar strums being drowned out by a seeming battle between the two singers. I first heard the demo featuring Suzie Martin a little over two years ago, and it has been done justice and improved by this version. It is a triumphant pop song which changes the album up a little, something his 2009 album lacked as it did kind of blend into one in some parts. A weird Texan-inspired Hell to Pay at the Gates of Heaven is genuinely what I feel is played on loop in the mind of Peter Doherty. If someone had ever tried to work out what goes on in his head, then I believe I have come the closest to figuring that out. This song, written in response to the Paris terrorist attacks carries an important message. “[it] is about the fucking Bataclan. It’s about how we’re under attack”, he told an NME ‘journalist’. He encapsulates that feeling of youth when you are desperate to fight for something but find no outlet capable of reining in your frustrations, Doherty turned to a guitar obsession and aren’t we thankful.
Nevertheless, I’m still in the water.
The Whole World Is Our Playground is a fun track with its easy lyrics, I guess this was Peters intention- to transport us to a happy fun place, whether that be on a playground itself or not. He does this very well throughout his career as he effortlessly puts us in the protagonist’s shoes or makes the listener feel and miss feelings they have never even experienced before. Some early Libertines songs makes me feel like I’ve slept rough on Camden streets after a fight on various substances and that’s what I’ve missed. Take the ending track She Is Far for example, we empathise with Peter, that this girl that he so clearly cares about is escaping him and distancing herself. ‘well, youth is no excuse but I’ll excuse you still’- Doherty places us in a relationship that has lost feeling, that is deteriorating and nobody knowing how to help the other. Even the most unattached bachelor can feel the things he does, we are being taken on an emotional ride that we can’t even remember queuing for. This end of the album leaves us wanting more but I am wise to expect another seven year gap in between records.
This album came at the exact right timing. It carries important messages that we can apply to many aspects that maybe be failing in the world. Doherty has not been afraid to speak what’s in his heart now more than ever. It is rare that an album escapes (much) criticism from me but, bias aside, I feel like Hamburg Demonstrations was the perfect way to end the year of music and leave us wanting more. I hope this feeling of wanting/needing is fulfilled in the near future.
Peter Doherty has just handed me a brew and asked for his wet coat back, he would say something like “crap weather isn’t it mate?”, I fail to see the funny side as my cold and tired body just wants to get off this rescue boat and into 2017.
Words by Jack Wager.