Album: Babyshambles

Down in Albion, ROUGH TRADE
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The stall is set out on the opening "La Belle et La Bete", an indie-punk jaunt telling "the story of a coked-up pansy/ who spends his nights in flights of fancy". As if to drive home the allegory, Kate Moss appears occasionally to ask: "Is she more beautiful than me?" The self-conscious artsiness of the Cocteau reference is extended by "A'rebours" (sic), an adaptation of J-K Huysmans' novel about a man so aestheticised he seeks recourse in a world of his own. In Doherty's version, the well-meaning would-be saviours of his soul only imprison him more: "What you rob me of is my (oh poor me) my liberty". Alas, the fanciful "Albion" that constitutes his own idealised world has already begun to tarnish badly, judging by his description of a land of "gin in teacups and leaves on the lawn, violence at bus stops and a pale thin girl with eyes forlorn".

The autobiographical impulse is everywhere. "The 32nd of December" deals with a traumatic break-up - presumably with old Libertines compadre Carl Barat; "What Katy Did Next" is less rewardingly self-referential; "Pentonville" is a self-explanatory account of life behind bars; and "Loyalty Song" finds Doherty at his most languidly Ray Davies-esque, astonished at a friend's treachery. Trustworthy friends are doubtless hard to find in his position.

To his credit, Doherty shows little inclination for displays of repentance. "If I could go back in time", he muses in "Up the Morning", "I'd go to the show where I did not show, and I would not show." For Doherty, dissipation is neither an accident nor a tragedy, but almost an ambition; though it's debatable whether the road of excess has yet led to the palace of wisdom in his case. What it has led to is a handful of indelibly catchy, albeit ramshackle, outsider anthems like "Pipedown" and the single "Fuck Forever". "They'll never play this on the radio," he slurs on the latter - though it sounds like a hit to me.

The ragged clangour of bare-boned guitars is a direct improvement on the Libertines formula, notwithstanding the occasional track, such as "Back From the Dead", where Babyshambles sound like a Smiths tribute band. What Doherty needs to take care to avoid becoming, however, is a bright, perhaps brilliant, flame dimmed by dissipation.

DOWNLOAD THIS: Fuck Forever, Pipedown, La Belle et La Bete, Albion, Loyalty Song