‘The Fantasy Life Of Poetry & Crime’ is the album that a particular school of Peter Doherty and Libertines fans would argue has been sorely missing from the artist’s catalogue. For Libertines fans in the heady days of 2003, not only were they still getting to grips with now-solid-classic debut album ‘Up The Bracket’ but a stream of lo-fi, brittle acoustic demos made their way onto the internet that, some would say, outshone even the group’s self-titled sophomore offering, echoes of which have made their way onto later albums, but not yet in the form of a full length long player.
Teaming up with composer and musical director Frédéric Lo during a lockdown that not only kept Doherty away from his beloved Albion and performing but also out of the reach of crack cocaine and heroin, gave the Libertines and Puta Madres frontman the time and space needed to create this missing piece of artistry.
Where on those 2003 demos there would have been acoustic guitar and muffled voices, Lo brings his entire musical director arsenal, conjuring up a baroque film noir universe with trumpet, piano and violin, while Doherty – liberated from guitarist duty due to a bout of carpel tunnel syndrome from a hedgehog bite (true story) devotes his time solely to wordsmithery and vocals, allowing the singer-poet to compose some of his most intricate and personal lyrics yet.
Some of the Libertine’s inspiration still lies in the romantic Brighton Rock corners of olde Albion, only here in the form of glimpsed flashback images in ‘The Ballad Of’ and the traditional artisan craft of ‘The Glassblower’. Now the narrative is switched to a Francophile outlook from a temperate life in Étretat with sober vulnerability running through the album’s veins. Coronavirus hangs overhead, in imagery as well as direct subject matter – ‘Yes I Wear A Mask’ could be an endorsement of wearing face coverings to slow the pandemic or an admission of hiding behind a persona or bravado, ‘The Epidemiologist’ compares the singer’s ability to weave between dramas to the quick spreading of contagion, ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ sees the performer seeking purpose in a world where “They closed down all the bars, clubs and theatres – Where am I supposed to sing my song?”
There is fragility and a reckoning in ‘Invictus’ that sounds like a dark night of the soul, a prelude to William Ernest Henley’s Victorian verse, and in the line from ‘Yes I Wear A Mask’ – “I sing the sweetest saddest song/ to cloud all of my wrongs”. ‘Abe Wassenstein’ is a gentle, thoughtful hymn to Peter’s friend Alan Wass who passed away in 2015. The only sign that this isn’t a record from a typically chamber pop artist comes in the form of ‘Rock & Roll Alchemy’ which, although well bedecked in Frederic Lo’s orchestral treatment, would sound well placed on any Libertines or Babyshambles record, if roughed up a little.
The melodies and prose of ‘The Fantasy Life Of Poetry & Crime’ are unmistakably Peter Doherty’s, if starker and more delicate than we’re used to in places, but Frederic Lo’s composer mettle adds a high brow sheen to the indie rocker’s usual ramshackle charm and it works a treat.
Doherty & Lo’s ‘The Fantasy Life Of Poetry & Crime’ was released on Strap Originals records – 18th March 2022 and is available to buy or stream right now. Take a look at the range of beautiful looking red vinyl and t-shirt bundles over at the official store.
The video for latest single The Epidemiologist is below for your viewing and listening pleasure: