After checking in to the Hope Rehab Centre in Thailand for drug addiction in late 2014, the well documented past troubles of Peter Doherty appeared to be behind him (for now at least) and his career has been on an upward trajectory ever since. Remaining in Thailand after successfully checking out of treatment in early 2015, Doherty teamed up again with his old band, The Libertines, where they recorded long-awaited third studio album. Anthems for Doomed Youth was warmly received critically and an extensive worldwide tour followed to adoring fans on the back of its release.
Here, Doherty follows up 2009 debut Grace / Wastelands with second solo effort Hamburg Demonstrations. The title stems literally from the fact that it was recorded in Cloud Hills Recordings in Hamburg over a six-month period and that a lot of the material gathered on here represents a bunch of demos spanning back quite a few years. It’s a surprisingly upbeat record that moves at a leisurely pace, though fans of the Libertines and Babyshambles hoping for some of the more raucous electric tracks of those bands’ oeuvre will be left disappointed.
One highlight, ‘Birdcage’, a duet with Suzie Martin featuring lyrics written by Doherty’s late friend Amy Winehouse, was originally released as a demo in 2012 and gets a reworking here. The cod-reggae guitars drive the song on steadily but it’s Martin’s powerful vocals that really elevate the song. ‘Flags from the Old Regime’ stands as a moving tribute to Winehouse, a sombre lament on her inability to deal with fame – “The fame they stoned you with, your tiny shoulders soldiered it / And you made your fortune, but you broke inside.”
‘I Don’t Love Anyone (But You’re Not Just Anyone)’, meanwhile, is a love affair accompanied by lavish production that borrows the melody and some lyrics from ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’, an old American Civil War song that relatives used to sing praying for the return of their loved ones. The second version of this song that appears (earlier in the tracklisting, confusingly enough) is a more stripped back number with melancholic strings and sparse percussion, and there’s no particular need for it to be included.
‘Hell to Pay at the Gates of Heaven’ is a jaunty, country skiffle number with starkly contrasting lyrics, written after the Paris attacks in November last year. The song laments the fact that some young men are picking up guns instead of guitars to make their way in the world, “The only way out of the ghetto or the farm for thee, you join a band or join the army”. It makes for an interesting contrast with opening track ‘Kolly Kibber’, an upbeat acoustic guitar-led tune with bouncy pianos. The autobiographical ‘Down for the Outing’, on the other hand, is more serious – “Sorry Dad for every good time that I had, They made me look so bad, Sorry Mum, I’m sorry for the good things that I’ve done, Gave you hope when there was none”.
Elsewhere, ‘The Whole World Is Our Playground’ is a breezy acoustic track, while ‘A Spy in the House of Love’ and ‘Oily Boker’ in the middle both tend to drift by without really taking off. Album closer ‘She Is Far’, however, is exceptionally pretty. Starting off with just acoustic guitar, sweeping strings are slowly introduced as the song builds and it really is a lovely way to round off proceedings.
Despite the cobbled together feel of some of the material, this is a solid, if unspectacular, effort from Doherty. One can only hope that in future he stays in the headlines for his creative projects rather than his other exploits.