Peter Doherty Might be Growing Up. We’re Surprised Too.
Peter Doherty has always been a bad boy in the music industry. His personality has led to many clashes with friends and bandmates. His drug use caused rifts within his family. His rumored romance with the late Amy Winehouse surprised exactly no one. His live-fast lifestyle was reliable fodder for UK tabloids throughout the past decade. But somewhere along the line, Doherty’s unpredictability became, well, predictable. More and more each day, we all know what to expect from him.
Or do we?
Easily his most intimate album, Hamburg Demonstrations shows us a more personal, at times vulnerable, side of Peter Doherty. While certainly not perfect, his latest effort provides some of his strongest lyrics and melodies in a long time. Hamburg Demonstrations seems to be something of a coming-of-age for Doherty, filled with introspection, regret, and dare we say, maturity. The singer-songwriter takes a more stripped-down approach, reflecting on events that have shaped him since his previous solo release in 2009, Grace/Wastelands. After 40 years, Peter Doherty may finally be growing up.
A lot has happened to Doherty since 2009. His friend and contemporary Amy Winehouse tragically passed away. His band, The Libertines, trekked through some tumultuous years together before Doherty’s departure. He fell in love. His beloved Paris was attacked. These formative events bring us Hamburg’s most memorable moments, both good and bad.
The ghost of Amy Winehouse lingers in and out of the album and brings us some of the LP’s best moments. “Birdcage,” originally co-written by Winehouse, finally surfaces as a finished product. Winehouse was expected to contribute vocals, but following her death, Suzi Martin fills in. Though the track inevitably leaves us wondering what could have been, Martin and Doherty bring a chemistry that draws us in.
“Flag of Old Regime” wasn’t written by Winehouse but shows a side of her that too often was left omitted in the press’s narrative of the star. It’s a raw, gritty ballad that focuses on the malaise that comes with the territory of superstardom. We learn that Winehouse lost connection with her music when forced to work exhaustive hours. Much has been speculated about the pair’s relationship, but no matter what kind of connect they had, it’s undeniable that Doherty and Winehouse were kindred. If anyone could make sense of her downfall and provide a more human perspective, it’s Doherty with this track.
The album may at times sounds familiar for good reason. “The Whole World Is Our Playground” has been in the works since 2003, originally recorded 13 years ago as a demo. “Spy In the House of Love” may sound familiar to fans as it was a demo that floated around for several years before making an appearance on the back end of the album
Themes of struggle weave in an out of Hamburg Destruction. Doherty sings about his struggles in relationships, identity, and coping with tragedy. Fans who have stuck with him this long will find a lot to enjoy on Hamburg Demonstrations.
Still, there are moments of cringe-worthiness in Doherty’s lyrics. Specifically, “Hell to Pay at the Gates of Heaven” can seem tone deaf to anyone affected by the Paris attack. Doherty sings “Come on boys choose your weapon/J45 or AK-47”. The song goes for The Clash, but doesn’t pan out.
It’s not the only strange moment. Two versions of “I Don’t Love Anyone (But You’re Not Just Anyone)” are included on the album. Version 2 of the song is placed somewhere in the middle while version one can be heard a few tracks later. Doherty had right with “V2” – aside from the opening string solo, the original’s polish sucks away the heartfelt rawness that renders the song a standout.
But overall, while many associate Doherty with his tabloid antics, songs like “I Don’t Love Anyone (But You’re Not Just Anyone)” prove that this persona overshadows a talented musician with still-unrealized potential.