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13th June 2024

Peter Bibby – Drama King: A tragic and unpredictable opus

Infusing the classic songwriting of Dylan and Springsteen with Australian wit and dive bar narratives, Peter Bibby’s latest album constantly surprises
Peter Bibby – Drama King: A tragic and unpredictable opus
Credit: Natalie Hewitt @ Spinning Top Records

Australian troubadour Peter Bibby is not your typical songwriter. But nor is he your typical punk. His latest release, Drama King, is a testament to his contradictory nature and kaleidoscopic inspirations, resulting in a joyously varied and unexpected record.

Drama King is undeniably accessible. Its goal seems to be the constant excitement of the listener, pivoting suddenly from country tracks to punk efforts such as ‘Fun Guy‘. There is a looseness and energy alive in the instrumentation on the record reminiscent of a live performance. This is likely a product of Bibby’s prolific touring schedule and it sounds like an Australian brother to the scrappy garage rock of British treasures, The Libertines. 

In fact, there is something very Peter Doherty in Bibby’s yelps and shouts throughout the album, as well as his lyrical efforts. The poetry of the mundane is prevalent throughout, focusing on everyday struggles to speak universal truths. Peter Bibby isn’t afraid to be direct. Admittedly, this doesn’t always work, such as on the unnecessarily blunt ‘Old DC’, but sometimes Bibby strikes gold.

Conceptually, the album is divided into two halves. The first deals with the hazy hedonism of Peter Bibby’s substance abuse and the second chronicles its humbling and soul-searching aftermath. ‘Baby Squid’ is the turning point of the record, beginning as a classical slow dancer inflected with the mourning of a lost love and a life sliding beyond his grasp. Bibby’s realisation of the desperation of the situation he has found himself in sees the track build into a genuine headbanger as his distress builds. This is a massive rock track complete with guitar solos, the soundtrack to Bibby sliding “down into the drink again.”

Bibby’s present sobriety gifts the tracks a clarity and self-awareness that feels as raw and authentic as the guitars which cut through them. Terracotta Brick, the album’s crowning achievement, is born from a developed understanding of self. Peter Bibby lays his demons and troubles bare, tying together the aspects of his life that led to his addiction.

He has lived the life of a tradesman, of the working class, one tied into a single path for all their lives. The only solution to deal with this realisation seems to be an early morning tin. It’s the hair of the dog, “the dirty dog that bit me,” Bibby laments, recognising he is a victim to his vices, that the partying to escape his reality is dragging him down yet further. He’s built his destruction and isolated himself. He feels out of reach.

Credit: Tim Barretto @ Spinning Top Records

It’s a far more tragic picture than the album opener, ‘The Arsehole’, paints. “No one wants to talk to me, because I’m the arsehole, probably.” What was once delivered with a wry smile over a warm, danceable track with a full band and country elements, now seems like a final cry for help or a declaration of destiny. Bibby’s rock bottom is painted with stark honesty and beauty, a truly affecting and fantastic lyrical effort.

Whilst the album’s structure is a powerful reflection of Bibby’s journey, the subdued nature of the latter tracks (although appropriate to the subject matter) prove far less engaging than the earlier efforts, where dive bar narratives and sludgy nineties sounds are so well balanced with the classic harmonies, harmonicas, and pianos of classic songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan – Bibby’s personal heroes.

The merging of these musical elements with narratives of excess shows a clear reverence for The Hold Steady (the self-proclaimed world’s biggest bar band) and suits Bibby’s aesthetics down to the ground. And, whilst Bibby’s voice admittedly lacks traditional skill, it has a unique character which suits these freewheeling late-night tracks. It might not be for everyone, but if you accept it, Bibby’s singing style straddles punk energies and singer-songwriter tragedies well.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention ‘Bin Boy’, perhaps Bibby’s most headline-grabbing effort. It is undeniably the best, if only, track I have ever heard about a wheelie bin. It is a track so absurd that it is destined to draw in many a curious listener. And, whilst there is no denying the humour in its lyricism, almost like magic, the quality of the songwriting and production (there are backing vocals and even a John Mayer-style sob rock guitar solo) means you accept the struggles of this poor bin. It’s a testament to Bibby’s unique personality (“a terrible character with redeeming qualities”) and his songwriting prowess. You’ll be worrying for days about the fact no one ever thinks to hose this poor bin out and that’s more than most songwriters could accomplish. Hats off to Bin Boy and Drama Kinga weird and wonderful effort from Peter Bibby.

Peter Bibby @ Spinning Top Records
Daniel Tothill

Daniel Tothill

A second year law with criminology student, with a passion for live music, culture and the world around us.

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