Sound — 7
Between his persistent commitment to musicianship and his struggle with addiction, the past ten-plus years for Peter Doherty have been a tug of war. It was his addiction that had him kicked out of his breakthrough indie rock band The Libertines back in 2004, and though he quickly got back on his feet by founding his own indie rock band Babyshambles, as well as start his solo career with 2009's "Grace/Wastelands," his addiction still hampered him with personal and legal troubles at seemingly every turn.
In recent years, however, Doherty has been riding a healthy wave of momentum. Though he would head back to rehab a year after releasing Babyshambles' third album, 2013's "Sequel to the Prequel," his completion of rehab at the start of 2015 was quickly followed by Doherty getting back in the studio to record The Libertines' long-anticipated comeback record, "Anthems for Doomed Youth." With the band touring in support of the album after its release, it's been the first time in over a decade that The Libertines have been in solid form without any interpersonal foibles. But even in the midst of The Libertines' second wind, Doherty is continuing to juggle his other music projects, now releasing his sophomore solo album, "Hamburg Demonstrations."
Whereas Doherty's first solo album showed him dipping a toe into several different genre pools, from soul and oldies to '90s alt-rock and Damien Rice-inspired folk, Doherty's songwriting influences in "Hamburg Demonstrations" narrows in focus. A hint of Baroque pop piano spruces up "Kolly Kibber," and the menacing vocal sample in the bridge of "Oily Boker" sounds like something one would expect to hear in a Nine Inch Nails or Ministry record, but the new direction Doherty tends to the most is country folk. Using plenty of instrumental staples from that genre, the pedal steel swells in "Hell to Pay at the Gates of Heaven," the banjo parts in "The Whole World Is Our Playground," the harmonica melodies in "Oily Boker," and the rich fiddle sections in "She Is Far," paired with the stark British accent of Doherty's vocals, make for an interesting Anglo twist on Americana twang.
Regarding his singer-songwriter base, Doherty improves upon some ideas previously attempted. His string arrangements in "I Don't Love Anyone (But You're Not Just Anyone) v2" wield more gravitas, and his duet with Suzie Martin in "Birdcage" is much more cooperative and substantial than his duet with Dot Allison in "Grace/Wastelands," though the lower-gear alt-rock moments on here can be meek, like the first version of "I Don't Love Anyone (But You're Not Just Anyone)" and the limp "Down for the Outing."
Lyrics — 8
Given the recent couple of years of successful rehabilitation, many of Doherty's lyrics in "Hamburg Demonstrations" confront his struggles as a drug-addicted celebrity. Referring to those years when he was constantly in the tabloids for his behavior ("Sorry dad, sorry for the good times that I had / They made me look so bad" in "Down for the Outing"; "Found myself in the Monday news / All those stories to keep you amused / Mum called to see / Oh is that really me?" in "A Spy in the House of Love"), Doherty's relieved that those days are behind him, not just because of embarrassment, but because the constant ostracizing from the public only compels one to keep using drugs.
Doherty drives that point by writing about the late Amy Winehouse, whom he was good friends with and had suffered the same affliction of addiction. Doherty observes how the public's harsh judgment towards Winehouse only drove her further into her vices in "Flags From the Old Regime" ("The fame they stoned you with / Your tiny shoulders soldiered it / and you made your fortune, but you broke inside"), and Doherty also admits that he hoped his camaraderie with Winehouse could have blossomed into more in "Birdcage" ("You said we could never be together / You're too pretty and I'm too clever"). And though Winehouse's death in 2011 was tragic, it was likely one of the most resonating things that inspired Doherty to finally get serious about overcoming his addiction, wanting to avoid an untimely death of his own in "Kolly Kibber," its chorus referring to the character of the same name in the Graham Greene book "Brighton Rock."
Overall Impression — 8
While the future for Doherty is looking much brighter than it did years ago, it took those years of struggle for Doherty to strengthen his resolve and reap the rewards of resilience. His understanding of this is the personal spirit that fuels his second solo album, and along with songwriting that's strives to be more cohesive than the freewheeling exploration of "Grace/Wastelands," Doherty's honesty is the key element that makes "Hamburg Demonstrations" a powerful follow-up.