Artist: Peter Doherty
Album: Hamburg Demonstrations
Critic: Scott Heisel
Publication: Consequence of Sound, 2016
Writing Disorders: Ambiguity Sickness, Scorn Disease
Scott, I meant to write this before New Year’s because I saw your review as an early Christmas present. Every year it gets harder to find pointlessly spiteful album reviews like the one you wrote, which helps to explain why nowadays I post on this site about as often as I vacuum the living room. If nothing gets my blood up, then I end up doing stuff like hiking or reading or spending time with family — the things that I’m always told to cherish BEFORE I get the cancer.
Boy, the times have changed. Five years ago the internet was still chock-full of domineering know-it-alls dumping on albums in any given week, but then music pubs slowly started demanding more from their writers — not necessarily better writing, but more of a grudging respect for the crazy notion that “criticism” isn’t the same thing as blowbanging musicians. So while reviews are generally kinder these days as a result, they’re harder to hate, easier to ignore, and more “inoffensively boring” as you might say.
Not yours though. Yours brought me back to the dark age, Scott. I could nitpick the smaller crumbs of your critique, but I wouldn’t be covering a lot of new ground, except maybe the whopping dearth of insight behind your assertion that a track “goes nowhere” or your use of “halfway-decent” to say that something was decent. Meh. I want to focus on the elephant in the room that most of the commenters didn’t seem to appreciate either. And that’s your tone, your insufferably smug tone. I know it when I see it because it’s the same strain of pompous nonchalance that I’ve tried to shake off since my teens. And through the miracle of age and isolation, I’ve come to recognize that it’s unbecoming of a young man.
Let’s get down to it, Scott. Three bits from your review rubbed me the wrong way. First there’s this doltish conclusion you drew from Peter Doherty’s band The Libertines:
“The problem is, the band never stopped while they were ahead.”
I don’t get it. So anytime a band faces your vague prospect of falling off after one album, they should just call it quits…after one album?
Granted I don’t even know what “ahead” means, whether it’s your personal definition of a “good album,” sales of that album, show attendance or whatever else. And frankly I’m not sure what you’re complaining about, because if they DID quit while they were ahead, then you wouldn’t have had as much tangential filler to cram into your hatchet job on this solo album, now seven albums removed from the “turn of the Millennium.” Plus it doesn’t exactly suggest a nuanced critique is forthcoming when you write that musicians who don’t live up to your expectations should just drop their instruments altogether. More on that later.
From there you go on to rip Doherty’s side project in order to make a vague point about “diminishing returns” by giving the impression that you’ve canvassed the world outside the UK like a census worker, testing people’s knowledge of the man and his music. And the point of comparison you offered for that dearth of recognition was this:
“The band is primarily remembered anywhere outside of the UK as that band with the heroin addict who once dated Kate Moss.”
That actually relates to the third bit, so I might as well hit them both at the same time. Behold…
“Doherty has claimed he has been clean and sober since completing his latest rehab stint in January 2015. That’s commendable. However, if this is what his sober mind produces — and the alternative is, uh, heroin addiction — perhaps a career change away from music is in order.”
Scott, too many things bug me about music writing to count, but flippant treatment of drug addiction would crack my top 20 if I tried. And it isn’t just the caustic crap that writers pen about the musicians when they’re alive, but the sanctimonious in-memoriam features and think pieces run by the same publications when they die. On a side note, my personal favorite has to be when Pitchfork called Scott Weiland a “drug-addled sonofabitch that should have OD’ed a long time ago,” but of course failed to mention that needlessly petty treatment of the man, let alone any pang of remorse when they ran a cuddly front-page tribute after he passed.
It’s interesting how reliably somber deference is paid to other grave afflictions facing artists like rape trauma or gun violence, but that drug addiction is still treated as a clownish behavior trait of rock stars that deserves the kind of casual condescension usually reserved for people landing on their balls after a dumb stunt on YouTube. So, Scott, forgive me for doubting that you were overflowing with sincerity when you wrote “That’s commendable” about Doherty’s sobriety, as if he hadn’t just recovered from a 10-year addiction but did something like refill the office copy machine without being asked.
Judging from the overwhelming contempt dripping off this review, I doubt you’d feel any shame if God forbid Pete Doherty had a tragic lapse in sobriety. But the real mustard on this crap sandwich was that you had the gall to rail against the man’s “soggy tribute” to Amy Winehouse, a former heroin addict herself who later died of alcohol poisoning, then glibly suggest that Doherty’s “commendable” but apparently art-dampening sobriety resulted in crappy, D+ music that should prompt him to consider a career change. It’s like saying a soldier who lost his leg because he CHOSE to serve in Afghanistan should give up his lifelong passion for running because now he awkwardly hobbles on a prosthetic after years of physical therapy. It’s beyond shallow.
Scott, on the off chance you’re reading this before penning your 32,000th tweet, I’d be overjoyed if you end up with a thorny feeling deep in the pit of your stomach. I daresay you deserve it. Because even though it means I don’t have as much to complain about anymore, I’ve taken comfort in the trend away from a lot of the petty, needless inhumanity that infected music writing for years. I’d rather be bored than pissed, and if making an example of another petty blowhard helps to nudge me further in that direction, I’m grateful for the opportunity.