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Album Review: 'Grace/Wastelands' by Peter Doherty

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

GRACE/WASTELANDS

Peter Doherty

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Astralwerks' British singer-songwriter Pete Doherty is best remembered as the drug-addicted, fedora-wearing crazypants (and Kate Moss's ex) who played in former buzz bands the Libertines and Babyshambles when he wasn't in rehab or jail -- kind of a male Amy Winehouse, except without any hits.

Doherty's first solo disc, "Grace/Wastelands," is a sweet, slightly addled exercise in classic Brit folk that takes left-field detours into clattering electro-lite, supper club jazz and ersatz lounge pop. It doubles as a love letter to a sepia-toned version of 20th-century England, from its wartime survivors to its supermodels. "1939 Returning," about a bombing evacuee who returns in 2009 as a nursing home resident, was intended as a duet with Winehouse (but that fell apart at the last minute, which explains its spacey awkwardness). Other tracks suggest a heavy debt to Fairport Convention-era folk, '60s Merseybeat and '90s Brit-pop (by way of modern-day dub, on the great "Last of the English Roses").

Doherty's music has always been more docile than his hell-raising tabloid reputation would suggest, but "Grace/Wastelands" is a mild, muted piece of work that lacks even the zip of the last Babyshambles disc (the neglected "Shotter's Nation"), to say nothing of Doherty's fizziest work with the Libertines. He seems to be trying so hard to behave himself that "Grace/Wastelands" frequently winds up sounding enervated and limp, as if, for Doherty, the mere act of staying alive was exhausting enough.

-- Allison Stewart

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Last of the English Roses," "1939 Returning," "New Love Grows on Trees"


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