Pete Doherty - Hamburg Demonstrations

Jordan Oloman reviews Pete Doherty's second solo album, Hamburg Demonstrations

Jordan Oloman
7th December 2016

As he gets older and older, I don’t think the charm emanating from Peter’s voice is fading one bit. Once a Libertine, perhaps still, but now focusing on a life beyond it. Hamburg Demonstrations, if anything, tells of a Doherty who is coming to terms with his life. He’s growing up, finally, and you can hear it in his music. He’s always been a tremendously clever songsmith, a talented writer with a unique disposition about him, and this continues on this album. ‘Hell to Pay at the Gates of Heaven’ is about the Bataclan, and includes a line ‘Come on boys, choose your weapons/J-45 or an AK-47?’ a starkly prescient comment. Why can’t we put down our guns and pick up a guitar, channelling our emotion into brighter pursuits, like the creation of music. A hopeful, poetic line that synergizes his idealistic sensibilities. A cynic might hear that and scoff, but I don’t think that’s the kind of person Peter is trying to speak to with Hamburg Demonstrations.

"He's always been a tremendously clever songsmith"

Gone are the days of ‘Fuck Forever’ and ‘Up the Bracket’, songs about despondence and alienation from society. Enter stage left, songs like ‘Birdcage’, and ‘Flags from the Old Regime’. The latter being solemn memoriam for the late Amy Winehouse, it is tremendously moving stuff, and worth a listen if you are a fan of both Pete or Amy’s music. ‘The Whole World Is Our Playground’ being another jovial little ditty about Pete putting the world to rights with a lover. His voice sounding almost romantic when there’s no heavy guitar riffs or oomph behind it.

"it’s unfortunately very close to the chest, and doesn’t really break any new ground"

Despite my compliments, this album is not bereft of fault. As much as it is a great open-hearted letter from Pete to fans of his solo work, it’s unfortunately very close to the chest, and doesn’t really break any new ground. It’s much the same as Grace/Wastelands, his first solo effort crafted 7 years ago. This is made so very clear on Track 8, ‘Oily Boker’, which goes on for a meaty 5 and a half minutes. About half way through you’ll start to feel the dissonance and realize that this could be any song that Pete has ever produced. He sings in refrain “A little too close to home” and all I can do is whole-heartedly agree.  As much as I love to hear his voice, sometimes there needs to be a little bit of flair on a new venture. I’m not talking a pivot into Jazz like Childish Gambino’s latest album, but Pete’s faith in love and music could surely lead him down some strange paths into different songs that I’d love to hear. All in all, at the best of times this album evokes what is so unique about Pete’s melancholy solo slurs, reminding me of a similar effort from Alex Turner on the soundtrack for Submarine. At its worst, it jars you out of your listening zen and reminds you that whilst Pete is good at what he does, maybe he should probe a few genres and try something fresh to complement that invigorating voice of his.


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