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Babyshambles - Sequel To The Prequel (Album Review)

Friday, 30 August 2013 Written by Mina Minkoff

As far as most of us were concerned, Babyshambles were dead, and we could have been forgiven for thinking so. It’d been six years since ‘Shotter’s Nation’, bassist Drew McConnell had shattered his spine in three places, and Pete Doherty was busy making French films and selling tin cups and union jacks from a pop-up shop in Camden. So, their return, with the Stephen Street-produced ‘Sequel To The Prequel’, was greeted with with a mixture of delight and anxiety.

The album’s early moments do little to change that appraisal. Imagine you’re walking through town and you see a drunk wearing a fireman’s helmet. He’s shouting unintelligibly at passers-by in a Benson and Hedges-ravaged voice, ranting randomly about wine, bones, and North Korea. “I am a fireman!” he cries. “Satan’s little helper!”. That’s Fireman, the record’s opener, in a nutshell. 

It’s a startling first track - like being woken up by a punch in the face – and it feels like the band are trying to reassure us that they haven’t gone soft while they’ve been away. The guitars are energetic enough, but Doherty’s voice is ragged and raspy, and not in a good way. The music-hall inspired Sequel To The Prequel would perhaps have been a more appropriate opener.

Nothing Comes To Nothing is a bit easier on the ears. It could be mistaken for a stab at radio-friendly pop-indie fluff, but if you pay attention you’ll catch snippets of lackadaisical lyrical brilliance: “The sick, sick muse, the sickly muse pulls out her sickle, so shiny, cuts the tongue in two.”

New Pair is a slow-burning tune that simmers along without ever reaching a climax, Maybelline is one of those old, catchy ‘Shambles tracks that should have been left on the cutting-room floor, Dr. No has a certain eerie ska charm and Penguins veers delightfully from innocence to arrogance, as Doherty tells us that “penguins are great” and then vows to steal someone else’s girlfriend.

Fall From Grace is upbeat but depressing at the same time, and Seven Shades is wordy and dense, boasting the lyrics: “I was born as a free man, now I’m tied to the mast, by the strings of an old guitar, bent out of tune too fast.”

The stunning Farmer’s Daughter bizarrely references the ‘Little Donkey’ Christmas carol that we all sang in school and has a noticeable Velvet Underground quality, building to a chorus in which Doherty hits a high note that would make a choirboy blush.

Picture Me In A Hospital proves that Babyshambles still have the ability to write songs that snag on the corners of your mind and won’t let go. It is a gently defiant ode to McConnell’s rehabilitation after a serious traffic accident, and Doherty sings: “Picture me in a hospital where the blood runs red and the bags are full of, oh you’re terrible, but it makes me powerful.” The violins are delicate and Doherty’s voice is soft and fragile, as McConnell sings woozily behind him.

And last, there’s the magnificent Minefield, a song that reminds us of what Babyshambles are really capable of. As much as Maybelline and Nothing Comes To Nothing are prettily arranged and radio-friendly, most fans ache to hear the dark, edgy Babyshambles that they fell in love with long ago. This song is sullen and sinister, developing like a thunderstorm, and Doherty’s vocals are powerful and haphazard, like in the good old days. 

‘Sequel To The Prequel’ is an impressive piece of work, considering the chaotic personal lives of the musicians involved. Bands evolve, and Babyshambles have produced a diverse album of bucolic ballads, moody epics, and music hall ditties. It’s comforting to know that Doherty still has the passion to write good music, and the dedication to get into the studio and make it happen. And if that’s not good enough, then what is?

Babyshambles UK & Ireland Tour Dates are as follows

Wed September 4th 2013 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Thu September 5th 2013 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Fri September 6th 2013 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Sat September 7th 2013 - MANCHESTER Manchester Academy
Mon September 9th 2013 - LIVERPOOL O2 Academy Liverpool
Tue September 10th 2013 - LINCOLN Engine Shed
Wed September 11th 2013 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Fri September 13th 2013 - OXFORD O2 Academy Oxford
Sat September 14th 2013 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sun September 15th 2013 - CARDIFF Cardiff University Students Union
Mon September 16th 2013 - NORWICH Norwich Nick Rayns LCR UEA
Thu October 10th 2013 - SHEFFIELD Leadmill
Fri October 11th 2013 - HATFIELD The Forum Hertfordshire
Sat October 12th 2013 - LEAMINGTON SPA Leamington Spa Assembly
Mon October 14th 2013 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Tue October 15th 2013 - LEICESTER O2 Academy Leicester
Thu October 17th 2013 - CAMBRIDGE Junction
Fri October 18th 2013 - FOLKESTONE Leas Cliff Hall
Sun October 20th 2013 - EXETER Exeter University Great Hall
Mon October 21st 2013 - BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy Bournemouth

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