Babyshambles – “Down In Albion” (Rough Trade)

There’s nothing better than a ‘proper rock’n’roll’ record to separate the critical wheat from the analytical chaff. Reading the mainstream press over the weekend as I luxuriated with my ‘early doors’ copy of “Down In Albion” (not from Rough Trade themselves, I would stress – shame on you James), I was struck by not only the seemingly uniform arrogance our nation’s arbiters of taste – but, more worryingly, the total ignorance of their subject that the majority of them flaunt like a designer label!

In a year that has seen Mark Beaumont of the NME flag up Hard-Fi as the pivotal watershed of social relevance in 2005, Simon Hayes Budgen only adds insult to injury as he concludes that “Down In Albion” is ‘the best demo you’ll hear all year’. It’s akin to New Impressionists Express slagging Monet for ‘being a bit fuzzy round the edges’. Obviously, we’d take the dubious word of some double-barrelled poshoe over the talent of the most important artiste this terminally ill country has thrown up in the past 20 years.

The Independent’s Simon Price goes substantially further in quantifying his own particular brand of unsuitability for his own chosen profession – let’s call it ineptitude: ‘Musically, it’s shabby old-school indie, and the singer’s voice suggests he was either out of his mind, or pretending to be’. My unprofessional opinion is thus: Simon listened to “Down In Albion” once!

The Guardian’s Dorian Lynskey fairs no better: ‘It is bloated with nonsense such as “Pentonville”, a rasta poem delivered by Doherty’s prison buddy, and “Sticks And Stones”, a petulant, haphazard skank.’ That’s right, Dorian, & that Van Gogh wanker – what were all those fucking sunflowers about?

It’s the IOS’s Kitty Empire that really takes the biscuit, however, her stunningly vague appraisal of “Down In Albion” is quite simply one of the worst pieces of rock journalism I have ever read. Miss Empire still can’t resist making “Down In Albion” her ‘CD Of The Week’, ironically. She’s not the type (sort) to miss a passing bandwagon.

The ‘build ‘em up/knock ‘em down’ traditionalism of the British school of rock journalism is still defiantly in the house. What these hacks fail to appreciate is that Babyshambles are not meant to be viewed in the same context as Franz Ferdinand, The Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight or Hard-Fi:

“It’s not supposed to be the same”

The message is plainly there in the music for anyone with a half-decent education to fully appreciate. Maybe it’s time to go back to “Rock Journo School” with Jack Black.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, the good ship Albion has returned to port & the pretenders that sit so prettily in the Queen’s Court can now be summarily dismissed. At 63:56 & 16 songs – “Down In Albion” is practically a double album. A double album recorded & mixed by Bill Price, produced by Mick Jones – the third LP in a series of 3 from it’s principal creator. Beginning to draw any parallels? Bulkington Calling?

To begin with, the artwork is a joy. The packaging compliments the music perfectly. “Down In Albion” looks as good as it feels – & sounds as good as it looks. It’s not flawless, obviously (nothing is), but its inherent flaws are exactly what gives it the edge over of 99.9% of the sterile flatulence that passes for post-modern popular culture in this disposable age:

“La Belle Et La Bete” - A startlingly brave opener: vaguely Waitsian stumblebum blues with a rockabilly gait & sinister overtones.

“Fuck Forever” – A towering behemoth of a 45: of course it’s not supposed to be the fucking same.

“A’rebours” – Against nature: Joris-Karl Huysmans’ (nee – Charles Marie George Huysmans) guide to being a true libertine:

‘He drank this liquid perfume from cups of that oriental porcelain known as egg-shell china, it is so delicate and diaphanous’

A wildly original fin de siècle novel, Against Nature contains only one character. De Esseinte is a decadent, ailing aristocrat who retreats to an isolated villa where he indulges his taste for luxury and excess.  Veering between nervous excitability and debilitating ennui he gluts his aesthetic appetites with classical literature and art, exotic jewels (with which he fatally encrusts the shell of his tortoise), rich perfumes and a kaleidoscope of sensual experiences. Against Nature, in the words of the author exploded ‘like a grenade’ and has a cult following to this day.

Ring any bells?

The 32nd Of December – Piano driven stomper: blessed with fluidity, charm & a bloody good tune to boot.

Pipedown – Crushing rocker: powerful riffage glued to a sea shanty melody & evocative lyrics:

“I just spoke to Mac & they want the money back”

Sticks And Stones – Whistle splattered skank: a monumentally groove-worthy exercise & one of “Down In Albion’s” pivotal moments:

“Don’t look back into the motherfucking sun”

Killamangiro – Re-recorded vershun of previous 45: faster, tighter – here we go again – hold tight – one more ride on the waltzers.

8 Dead Boys – Effortless rocker: Walden’s gtr screams & burns – regardless of anything else, Babyshambles are an incredibly tight outfit of brilliant individual musicians - & this is often over-looked.

In Love With A Feeling – Raison d’etre: it’s not rocket science, is it? He knows it shoes. Don’t care who knows. Get over it. I’m sure I can hear Mick Jones’ dulcet tones on the backing vocals.

Pentonville – Featuring prison cellmate, The General on vocals: exquisite & poignant. Sounds like it could have been recorded in prison – with Pete in the next cell! The most important moment on “Down In Albion”: the sound of hope.

What Katy Did Next – A love song: wear your heart on your sleeve where the whole world can see it!

Interlude: The boys undertake a spot of DIY: drilling, hammering, bass guitar tuning.

Albion – Keynote speech: it’s here at last. Hurrah! Come away with me to Deptford, Catford, Watford, Digbeth, Mansfield – anywhere – in Albion.

Back From The Dead – This charming tune is blessed with a familiar rhythm: but that’s where the similarities end. Contrary to popular belief.

Loyalty Song – Another deserved kick in the bollocks for Carlos: and why not? One of the best things about “Down In Albion” is that he isn’t on it! Something to treasure forever at last. No stains.

Interlude: Anybody fancy a cup of tea? Ooh, look, there goes the 10:15 to Ramsgate. Anybody seen my owl?

Up The Morning – Brush the sleepy dust from your eyes: that descending skip-load of squalling guitar means it’s time to get up. I’m sure I can here Mick Jones’ dulcet tones on the backing vocals.

Merry Go Round – A lullaby to close: put your arms around me & protect us from the bullshit. Together we can fend them off for at least another couple of days:

“Mop it up, she’ll be alright”

Forget the shit-gigs, the no-shows, the half-deads, the pinned-eyes, the rock-washes, the tabloid-scum & the self-facilitating-media-nodes. “Down In Albion” is what Babyshambles will be judged on. “Down In Albion” is what we’ll play our children. Long after the ink & the tears have dried.

As a debut LP, “Down In Albion” is up there with “The Stone Roses” & “The Las” – a holy trilogy, if you will. As a 3rd LP, it has much in common with “London Calling”. For people who know about these things, take note. For the rest of you, there’ll be another Razorlight LP along in a minute.

Guy Debored – tMx 22 – 11/05
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