Fairly or not, it’s difficult to separate a person from their reputation. Due to many poor choices involving drugs, crime, and affairs of the heart, Pete Doherty is better known to some as tabloid fodder, which is rather a shame for any artist. The ex-Libertine/Babyshambles front man is going by the more formal Peter on this release, possibly wanting to change his image and/or persona, which might explain the ever-changing arrangements as one song sounds nothing like the next.
Album-opener “Arcadie” offers an interesting incongruity. The music and lyrics start off a perfect match as he sings over an acoustic guitar and brushed drums that shuffles and “trips along,” sounding “pure and simple as the shepherd's song” as the lyrics describe. Yet the music doesn’t change when “quickly twisted it becomes” as the narrator finds “the cat gut binds my ankles to your bedstead.”
With a string section added to the acoustic guitar, “1939 Returning” appears to tell the story of two different characters. It starts with a British soldier who “sacrificed his life,/ caught behind enemy lines” and concludes with the narrator’s Nana who was evacuated during the war and now finds herself in a home for the elderly. However, Doherty doesn’t make a clear connection between the two.
With its title and the sweeping organ leading an orchestra, makes “A Little Death Around the Eyes” reminiscent of a ‘60s Bond theme. The lyrics reveal a narrator who is controlling over his latest conquest who he took her boyfriend. Rather an ugly person, in fact.
The arrangement of “Last Of The English Roses” is some dub subgenre as Doherty riffs on memories of growing up with the gal the song is about. “Through The Looking Glass” has a jangly throwback sounds reminiscent of The Kinks. Doherty sounds backed by a New Orleans swinging jazz band on “Sweet By And By” and scats during the conclusion. “Palace Of Bone” presents a tale of life on the road and given a Western feel.
Scottish singer Dot Allison co-wrote their duet “Sheepskin Tearaway,” a sweet song about a relationship where the woman falls for junkie. Doherty sings most of the vocals, but that privilege should have fallen to Allison who has a better voice.
Although maybe not intentional, “New Love Grows On Trees” looks at the foolishness of youth wanting to burn out rather than fade away “If you're still alive/ When you're twenty-five/ Oh, should I kill you like you asked me to?”
Grace/Wasteland is pleasant enough while it’s playing, and people who are already fans of his work may well disagree, but Doherty doesn’t do enough with his lyrics or his vocals that would compel me to return to it. The music, however, is very intriguing, so kudos go to producer Stephen Street, former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, and fellow Babyshambles members guitarist Mick Whitnall, bassist Drew McConnell, and drummer Adam Ficek.