Down in Albion
isten children. Don’t Do Drugs. It’s just not worth losing your supermodel girlfriend, let alone the criminal charges, the prison time, and the pernicious effect on your boundless musical talent. Isn’t that right Pete?
This is Pete. Pete uses drugs. Um, allegedly. Pete recently released a new album, Down in Albion, after being fired from his last band for using drugs. Hear that? Down. That’s what drugs will do to you if you don’t watch out. I dunno what Albion is, but it doesn’t sound good, does it?
This is Pete’s album on drugs. Note the sad progression from initial giddiness, through defiance and jubilation followed by the inevitable descent into incoherence. Sad, isn’t it. Any questions?
Just a few. What would the album have sounded like without the drugs? And is the album really about a trip? Or is it really about trying to reconcile drugs, music, and your love for a supermodel? Or is it just the order things were recorded? Or just canny sequencing by your producer? Really? Fascinating. Thank you, Pete.
It is a measure of Albion’s strengths that it can make itself heard above the crumpy distortion and shrill feedback generated by its author. For that, we owe a debt of gratitude to the redoubtable Mick Jones, pictured on the album’s inside cover looking overexposed but far and away the most together of the gang.
Thanks to Jones, the first and strongest half of Down in Albion sounds like The Clash on a druggy bender: scrappy, ramshackle, and resolutely dissolute. The Clash of London Calling probably would have sanded the rough edges of “Albion,” so that the guitar dovetailed better with the snare, but the loosey-goosey pop of “A’rebours” (“Would you vow today to pay tomorrow / The fuck off big debt I owe to sorrow”) would fit neatly on the B-side of “Rudie Can’t Fail,” and the loungy insouciance of “The 32nd of December” is a kissing cousin to “Jimmy Jazz.”
The bombastic “Fuck Forever” briefly wakes the sleeping spirit of the Gallagher brothers, if you skimmed only the top layer of an Oasis multitracked behemoth. Doherty sounds too chirpy to be really angry, though, even on the slightly self-evident coda “They’ll never play this on the radio.” (Wouldn’t it be fun to hear an FCC-approved bleeped-out version?) The song’s meaning is further clouded by his post-hearing, windshield-scrawled declaration to Kate Moss. Pete, is “Forever” the same thing as “4 Eva”?
And what significance should we read into the album’s length? Sixteen songs is a lot of songs. This is the sound of a man who cares not a jot for what others think, a man fully in the thrall of his muse. It is also the sound of a man who is not worried about where his next album is going to come from.
In sixteen songs, there’s plenty of opportunity for downtime, yet there’s nary a song that doesn’t defy the expectations of both junkie inaccessibility (cf. John Frusciante) and rock ‘n roll wunderkind. If “Sticks and Stones” has a predictable reggae schtick, there is a shimmering two second plank (it’s too short to call it a bridge) that illuminates the whole thing. Accident or genius?
And that’s the real attraction of the album. Doherty can barely make breakfast between bail hearings, so he presumably wasn’t churning out multiple takes. Again, kudos to Jones and the rest of the ‘Shambles for ably fitting out what must have been some tricky sessions. But the draw is the immediacy of Doherty’s phrasing, the dropped lines, the rushed syllables, the excess, misplaced fills, even the incestuous melodies, cross-eyed and rather too closely related, that populate the album. The entire album sounds blurted out in a hyper-verbal Guy Ritchie Anglo-regional rush, tangling Kate Moss with “a pikey with a knowledge of scripture.” The entire lyrical content of some tracks appears to have been dictated by the neat wordplay of their titles, with riffs circling Doherty’s bloody-minded hedonism: “They killed a man for his giro today / No he wasn’t very gay / I didn’t mind I wasn’t money mad anyway.”
The awful reverb drowned dub-blag “Pentonville” bisects the album, breaking up the creeping similarity and mucking up the turgid hipness of the album. If Albion has replaced Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in your local cafe, “Pentonville” will make the hipsters splutter on their mochaccinos. What follows sounds, with a few exceptions (the chorus to “What Katy Did Next”) ever more thrown together, continuing the dissolute trajectory. “Albion” begins with a gratuitous minute of string scratching, perhaps to redeem the clipped-acoustic sweetness of what follows. “Back from the Dead” gathers its shape from what sounds like a three way noodle session, while “Up in the Morning” takes a good minute simply to open its eyes and find its feet.
The album closes with the early morning hangover “Merry Go Round,” constructed from little more than Doherty’s vaguely tuned, tinny acoustic guitar and Adam Ficek’s brushed drums. It sounds like a first take, even a rehearsal, until Doherty calls in the band for unexpectedly lovely vocal harmonies. With its wan, washed up beauty, it could be a quiet moment from Dark Side of the Moon. It lasts all of 20 seconds. Shortly afterwards Doherty stumbles over a microphone and the song dribbles away. It’s a ridiculous gesture, and a fitting end to the album. It may even be accidental.
To paraphrase Bill Nighy: Don’t Do Drugs. Become a pop star and make a record out of them instead.