How long has it been since we've been able to have a musical discussion about Pete Doherty in the present tense? I'm shocked and pleased by this development. I guess I'm one of those largely tabloid-averse folks who find's Pete's music more interesting than his drug habits.
I chose the word "interesting" because listening to Pete's music can be glorious and brilliant; it can also be a chore because that indulgent streak that runs through the man can also manifest itself in his music.
Shotter's Nation reminds me a lot of Goldilox, The Three Bears and the table of porridge or Sir Isaac Newton's laws of physics about there being an equal and opposite reaction to every action. Down in Albion, the band's first record, was occasionally brilliant and very often an impenetrable mess. Shotter sounds like the reaction to that stew of great ideas and good drugs (or good ideas and great drugs). If Papa's porridge (Down in Albion) was too hot for the tiny tart, Shotter might be a little too cold.
The opening salvo of "Carry On Up the Morning" and "Delivery" are examples of what it sounds like when the porridge is just right. "Morning" opens with jagged guitars and features one of those quintessential Doherty vocals; a stream-of-consciousness melody that surprises Pete and the listener at every turn. "Delivery" rocks with Kinks-like vigor and struts with snotty, blue collar punk attitude.
The Mick Jones-produced (The Clash) Albion was maniacal and messy, filled with brilliance and blemishes. Jones seemed to allow tape to keep rolling while Pete tried to remember where he was at, improvising the songs as he went along. The first thing Stephen Street (Blur) did when he got to the table was blow on the steaming bowl to cool things down for Shotter's Nation. The Shotter tracks are focused and concise, allowing them to roll from one to the next in short order.
Did Street go too far? Maybe.
Shotter's Nation is lean and accessible. The songs are good, sometimes great. The band is tight and Peter sounds clearheaded and engaged. These are all good things and make listening to it a pleasure rather than a chore. Missing, though, is the sense of danger, destruction, and menace that were so much apart of Pete's work with Libertines and the best moments of Albion. At his best Pete Doherty makes chaos pop, and with all he's put himself through there were days it seemed he'd never realize that best. Shotter's Nation is a huge step in that progression, one that makes us pull for our troubled hero all the more.
After the opening salvo, the album hangs together well because no song overstays its welcome. There are no lame attempts at reggae and the ska influences are downplayed, both welcome developments. In place of those dalliances is a lone acoustic cut at album's end, "The Lost Art of Murder." "Murder" is a great track, reinforcing the point that Doherty is at his best when the clutter is swept away. Let's hope a Doherty acoustic album is on the horizon, and soon.