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Peter Doherty, ‘Grace/Wastelands’ (Astralwerks)

The seemingly constant rehabs, arrests, and prison stints. The romp with Amy Winehouse and a filthy handful of newborn mice on YouTube. It’s all too easy to dismiss Pete (now Peter, for a touch of class) Doherty as nothing more than a smack-addled wretch. But there’s little denying the former Libertine and current Babyshamble’s talent as a songwriter and, well, presence. As if channeling Serge Gainsbourg — a kindred louche European who probably smelled and couldn’t quite sing — Doherty flits through genres on his first solo album like a nodding junkie discovering what’s been buried in his pockets all these years. And in a narcotized haze of lounge blues, New Orleans jazz, gauzy retro soul, and understated guitar pop, he has made the most compelling record of his career.

Babyshambles babysitter Stephen Street returns to produce, but instead of pushing the urgent rock of Shotters Nation, he focuses on spare arrangements that highlight Doherty’s severely vulnerable voice and Beat-poetic lyrics about the guy with a scottish fiver up his nose and the girl who knows her tit from her tat and her Winstons from her Enochs. Where Doherty prominently borrowed from (paid homage to?) the Cure’s “Love Cats” on Shotters, here he nicks from literary Britpoppers the Auteurs for the druggy anthem “A Little Death Around the Eyes.” They should be flattered.

Listen: Pete Doherty, “New Love Grows On Trees”(DOWNLOAD MP3)