I’m going to come clean now: I’m a Libertines fanboy. I love everything by the Libertines, and I’m a huge fan of Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things as well. That makes my job as a reviewer harder, though I promise to give Peter Doherty’s solo album, Grace/Wastelands, as fair and unbiased a treatment as possible. It would be unfair to the music to do otherwise.

That said, this is a far cry from most anything Doherty’s done before. Gone is the sloppy, rugged overindulgence that characterized the man before; Grace/Wastelands is a more subdued, controlled album, eschewing debauchery for a more stripped-down intensity. This is, musically, Doherty’s finest hour; he sings better than he has before, and the songs themselves all fit together nicely on the whole (something that has yet to happen on a Babyshambles album). The wistful, reflective lyrics are a product of growing up, no doubt, but still contain visceral moments of youthful fury—”New Love Grows On Trees” was demoed as a Libertines song, and in the demo when Pete sings “If you’re still alive when you’re 25, should I kill you like you asked me to?” you can hear Carl reply “I never ask you that!” These snippets of past bitterness combine excellently with the mournful nostalgia and regret and give a more complete, nuanced, and intelligent picture of Doherty than any of his work has done before. Try as I might to keep away from the comparisons, I can’t. It’s hard to imagine that the man who wrote the plaintive “Death On The Stairs” is now writing solemn laments about love lost and singing them coherently. Thankfully, Doherty delivers.

This album isn’t just about Doherty, though; those of you who aren’t fan boys will still find something here to enjoy. The music itself is quite good; Blur’s Graham Coxon contributes guitar to almost every song, most notably to the bluesy “Palace of Bone,” where his atmospheric soloing contrasts elegantly with Doherty’s acoustic guitar and somber singing. When I first heard this album, I feared it would basically be a British Jack Johnson. Thankfully, I was wrong. The music here is more inspired and interesting than your standard sensitive-guy drivel. Coxon’s guitars are, as always, a pleasure, and the fact that Doherty’s band Babyshambles made instrumental contributions to this album is not only a pleasant thought (because Babyshambles is awesome to us fan boys) but also a surprising one, given the stark contrast between this album and anything by Babyshambles.

Will this album appeal to a non-fanboy? The answer is yes; in fact, this more so than any of Doherty’s other work will appeal to someone wary of the man based on his public image. Us fanboys, however, will eat it up all the more voraciously. The album is not long and it is not vicious or edgy, at least not overtly so. That subtlety makes it clear Doherty has matured and is what makes this so intriguing a listen for anyone who is a fan of this kind of singer/songwriter music; however, Doherty’s maturity isn’t all good. The jazzy “Sweet By and By” stumbles more than swings as Doherty tries and fails to create the nightclub mystique, and “1939 Returning” is only excusable after a quick Google search reveals it was intended as a duet with Amy Winehouse. That isn’t to say, however, that this album is by any means bad. It is enjoyable and shows a new, clean(er) Pete(r) Doherty who is ready to move into the next stages of his life without the debauched revelry of his past.

Highlights include the aforementioned “New Love Grows On Trees,” Doherty’s Peter Wolfe-co-written “Broken Love Song,” a wonderful Oscar Wilde tribute, and “Sheepskin Tearaway,” a duet with Scottish singer-songwriter Dot Allison.

Release Date: March 24th, 2009

Overall rating: 8.0/10

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