The Libertines - The Libertines
The second album from the London four piece appears against a background of chaos, scandal and an uncertain future. To condense the story joint main man Pete Doherty is struggling with personal problems of the rock and roll kind and the other singer/guitarist Carl Barat is keeping him out of the band until he sorts himself and stops breaking into his flat, stealing his stuff and heading off to jail and rehab on his days off. It's all true but somewhere during all this self destruction they managed to produce 14 songs in London with ex-Clash man Mick Jones at the mixing desk.
There's been so much hype surrounding The Libertines that I managed to give their debut a miss but I'm big enough to admit defeat as this record delivers where it matters the most, with the music. The Libertines are an essentially English Rock And Roll band and there is no escaping the shadow of the Clash that towers over their writing and sound. It doesn't tell the full story though as the record is peppered with more song based numbers not unlike The Kinks on amphetamines.
The Libertines contains 14 songs with a reasonably wide vision, they play loose but they play controlled and they deliver a strong sense of self that pulls the record back from what could easily be a retro cul de sac. The album kicks off with Can't Stand Me Now and Barat and Doherty swap verses after a standard opening and the staccato chorus becomes more insistent as guitars ring and saw in the background, bassist John Hassal and drummer Gary Powell add the framework as the band deliver a tensioned energetic catchy opening.
Last Post On The Bugle is less commercial but the main guitar line drives the 2.5 minutes along nicely.Don't Be Shy has a twisty vocal from Doherty has an unusual feel but dithers towards the end. The Man Who Would Be King lyrically reflecting that star dom comes at a cost is recounted against a shuffling beat, the words unfolding in uneven rambling style but never losing their impact, it is a high point of the record complete with erratic jazz tinged fade out.
Hitting with equal impact is Music When The Lights Go Out, a strumming acoustic guitar offset with lovely lead guitar line that collides into the chorus and pulls itself back out and is one of the strongest melodies on view.Narcissist is closer to early Britpop and really doesn't fit with the prevailing mood; it doesn't quite fail but merely adds an odd interlude.The Ha Ha Wall strangely fuses Teardrops Explodes with The Clash and Arbeit Macht Frei is a frantic minute of aimless punk.
Campaign Of Hate opens with Television style guitar and mutates into a hard funk that loses control and its message in the process, the sped up ending surely signifying a loss of how to conclude matters.What Katie Did gets things back on track with its shoop shoop opening, jaunty and jolly it is a lightweight number that the band manages to pull off, a tender and reflective moment.Tomblands is a look at London 's dark underbelly recalling The Clash in every sense but crucially is saved by the quality of the song writing.
The finishing trio of songs (as is the opener) is the band playing with their own mythology, The Saga is a fast driven tale of a man with a problem, Road To Ruin warns of the pitfalls of fame and is another well constructed Clash pastiche. What Became Of The Likely Lads sees Doherty and Barat in a face off about their friendship; it's a remarkably honest song that will remain as a signpost in their career whatever the outcome, their duel vocals working better than ever, it's a worthy summation of the talent on show.
Poignantly the album ends on a hidden untitled acoustic number, Barat's lone voice and guitar sings a lonely Blues, a tale of how to survive, it's a lovely calm ending to the noisy 40 minutes that preceded it.
Mick Jones's production is per functionary, it sounds like he basically rolled the tape as the band played and since the intent would appear not to sound in the least perfect you can say he certainly doesn't get in the way of the music, it sounds balanced enough with thud and clarity when required.
The Libertines follow on in the tradition of ramshackle rock and roll from late 60's Stones to The Clash and The Replacements, the band could never be mistaken for being anything other than English but despite very obvious roots they are not short on imagination or instinct.
The internal conflict at the centre of the band is neither a stunt nor is it heroic for that matter but I prefer to concentrate on the music.The album sags in the middle for sure but it's a minor distraction because the bulk of the album delivers some of the best and most exciting material of the year.
© Ben Campbell