Never one to be easily relied upon, Pete Doherty's return to musical coherence couldn't have been better timed. Making some progress in his battle to beat his addictions, Doherty's improved health and musical revitalisation coincides with a period when his career seems to be hitting an upward trajectory.
With a huge arena tour booked before the completion of 'Shotters Nation' and a major label deal only recently inked, the 28-year-old's musical profile (along with his credibility as a songwriter) has been brought into sharp focus.
Though Doherty has become the most infamous of car crash celebrities over the past three years, his musical fanbase has been the preserve of a small number of patient and hardcore admirers. The majority who read of his daily antics would struggle to name one of his songs, never mind hum one.
'Shotters Nation' is unlikely to correct such an imbalance, However, though it may not be laced with the sort of radio-friendly hits likely to make Doherty a radio favourite, Babyshambles' second long player nonetheless reaffirms the former Libertine as one of the most interesting and compelling British songwriters of the last decade.
Neatly jumping between jangly Britpop, 1960s garage rock and glam-folk, Doherty seems to have been kicked into shape by both producer Stephen Street and his bandmates, who have evidently had enough of being bit players in the Pete Doherty freak show.
Street's influence is all the more exceptional given even the most cursory of listens to Babyshambles' loose and shambolic debut, 'Down in Albion' which (like The Libertines' eponymous second album) was recorded in fits and starts whenever Doherty appeared coherent enough to sing or play.
Here Street has somehow coerced Doherty into singing rather than mumbling his words and the frontman delivers blinding performances on the infectious 'You Talk' and the glam-funk-rock of 'Baddie's Boogie'.
In new guitarist Mick Whitnall, Doherty has also found a keen songwriting ally, sparking his best collaborative efforts since his work with Carl Barat.
All clever hooks and creative chord changes, Whitnall plays up to the folkier elements of Doherty's songs. Rather than speed them up, he largely drops their previous penchant for 100mph punk-driven tunes in favour of infusing songs like 'French Dog Blues' and 'UnBiloTitled' with light and melodic garage-rock flourishes.
It all makes for a record which is slower than Doherty's previous efforts, and more musically astute than many have given the band credit for.
Throughout Doherty also delves into the Noel Gallagher School of songwriting. 'Delivery' is clearly a rip-off of The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me', a fact which Doherty doesn't disguise in an accompanying interview with the album.
So too does he point out that Drew McConnell ripped off the bass line from 'The Lovecats' by The Cure on the tender 'There She Goes'; while an Ian Brown lyric is used on 'French Dog Blues', one of a number of album highlights. The most important thing however is that such rip-offs work, and work well.
The album closes with the beautiful 'Lost Art of Murder', a stripped-back acoustic number which features Bert Jansch on guitar. Here Doherty showcases his flair for the poetic with a series of clever phrases marking his best lyrical contribution to the album.
While there is nothing here to get overly excited about, 'Shotters Nation' nonetheless marks one of the better British guitar records of 2007 and is a commendable indicator of what Pete Doherty is capable of when surrounded by people with his best interests at heart. Recommended.
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