Novelist Maurice Leblanc’s early 19th detectiveArsène Lupin was the antithesis of the typical true crime hero. More Robin Hood than Sherlock Holmes, the fictitious character was a burglar of sorts, notoriously sly in stealing from the rich and distributing his said bounty. A master of disguise, Lupin was the protagonist—or antagonist—of dozens of novels and short stories, released from 1905 through the last adventure published posthumously after Leblanc’s death in 1941 and most recently turned into a Netflix mystery series. The mystique of Lupin and the felonious pursuits inspired Peter Doherty and composer Frédéric Lo to explore their own musical misadventures on the duo’s collaborative album The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime (Strap Originals).
Composed and written by Lo and Doherty, The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime is a collection of the pair’s own tales, opening with the “The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime,” an ode to the Leblanc’s beguiling gentleman thief. “The melody is in a folk European style it could be Ennio Morricone or Nino Rota (The Godfather),” said Lo of the composition. “There was a TV series, ‘Arsène Lupin,’ in the ’70s with songs by Jacques Dutronc. The series was a little bit James Bond and all the women fell in love with him and he was unwatchable.”
Throughout The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime are different tales told. The piano ballad, “The Epidemiologist,” addresses “hope when things are a mess,” says Doherty, who serenades through very Penny Dreadful-like stances on “The Ballad Of,” which envisions a story less macabre before its classical-pop build. “It’s a kind of a day in the life of someone squatting with their dogs in a disused B&B on the Esplanade in Margate,” says Doherty.
The Fantasy Life of Poetry & Crime revels around film and art, literature and music in “Yes, I Wear a Mask,” jabbing at the unnatural state of masks and other concealments, and the indie flair of “Rock and Roll Alchemy” and music serving as an elixir for grief and loss. The latter track is close-held to “Abe Wasserstein,” a tender, acoustic homage to Doherty’s friend and longtime Libertines collaborator Alan Wass, who died in 2015 at the age of 33 after suffering a heart attack— He lived upon a rock and died upon a roll… I sit and stare / I say a prayer… a kind of prayer for a friend of mine.
Doherty, who now lives in Éretrat, France, references his struggle for a drug-free lifestyle on the more uptempo semblance of The Smiths on “You Can’t Keep It From Me Forever” and the other side of addiction on “The Monster,” singing La vie est tendre / Belle et violente (Life is tender, beautiful and violent). The pair also revisit the poem Nelson Mandela would recite to his prison mates, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley on the track of the same name.
More characters find their way in, moving through more East European-gypsy beats of “The Glassblower” and the lower fi folk-pop of “Keeping Me on Fire,” singing One drop of wine, one pull of the tide and the sun is darkening” before the closing “Far From the Maddening Crowd,” a song birthed from the recent pandemic, its title pulled from the 1874 Thomas Hardy book of the same name and Thomas Gray’s 1751 poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”