The infamous Pete Doherty adds an “r” to his name for his first solo album, a slightly classier rechristening that hints at a more refined sound and, most likely, an attempt to start over. The surprising part is how well it works. Grace/Wastelands is a pleasant, downright breezy collection of songs and Doherty, excepting the dreamily ragged quality of his voice, sounds something like a new man. While Doherty’s work with Babyshambles hinted at a more tempered sound than his Libertines oeuvre, it was still far from the relative peace of this album, which is calm and leisurely, barely ever raising its voice. None of these songs muster much energy, but their spareness and slow tempos show a different side to the singer, who laces their simple structures with a twisted lyrical sensibility, which takes on past baggage and broader events all in a resolutely bemused deadpan. There are suggestions of both Newman and Nillsson, especially in the tingling murmur of strings and horns and songs like “Sweet By and By,” which use jangling keys and Tin Pan Alley horns to create a jaunty burlesque shuffle. Most importantly, the album serves to re-humanize Doherty, who has sunk so far into tabloid hell as to completely caricaturize himself. There are a few references to that drugged-out persona here, in songs that seem fixated on pills and death, and which putter along at a suspiciously sleepy pace, but the cleanness and sparse beauty of these tracks suggests Doherty is taking tentative strides toward confronting the horror of himself. Although a slow, not quite graceful recovery, Grace/Wastelands is also a stab at realized potential. It feels, resolutely, like a first step toward something.
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