The band produced by Mick Jones
The band produced by Mick Jones
The Libertines – “Up The Bracket” – RTRADECD065

I was really looking forward to The Libertines LP. I say was.

The Libertines deliver their debut LP a mere 8 months after dropping their first 45 – quick learners or wideboys in a hurry? Initially hyped as The London Strokes, there is (of course) far more detail to The Libertines than dime store Starsky & Hutch leather blousons & ridiculous lyrics that say absolutely nothing to me about my life. Once you get past the cockerney knees up tendencies & the dubious Albion mythology, The Libertines are a very traditional rock & roll group that could have come from anyone’s generation at almost anytime during the last 30 odd years. They love the past, The Libertines, it’s written all over their songs like graffiti on a school exercise book. Take their choice of producer, for example, a man not really known for his production technique, his fret-board dexterity or his sonic vision (in fact, not known for anything other than being the man that split The Clash). As Kirk Brandon (a man once earmarked for greatness by many, for those of you too young to remember Theatre Of Hate/Spear Of Destiny) found out too late – Mick just turns up, turns the knobs up & presses “record” (harsh, but fair).

Despite the constant threat that The Libertines could turn into the “new” Suede at any moment, “Up The Bracket” is a fine set of demos recorded simply but effectively by a man out of time. Opener “Vertigo” recalls an angle-poise Kinks. “Death On The Stairs” is reminiscent of “London Calling” period Clash (it’s opening guitar coda is SOOO Mick it must be him playing!!! & the solo, surely) complete with Westway style backing vocals. “Horrowshow”, a sordid tale of heroin dependency, is built around an ancient r&b riff, given a punky undercarriage & dressed with topically obtuse guitar abuse. “Time For Heroes” has a lived in quality & another Mick solo – the backing vocal outro @ 2.07 IS pure Clash. “Boys In The Band” is vaudeville – the smell of the greasepaint & the weight of the curtain – dancehall days, indeed. “Radio America” isn’t finished yet – it’s charm is somewhat diminished by the fact that the boys in the band obviously couldn’t be bothered to write the rest of the song – anyway, we thought all the acoustic guitars in the world had been confiscated & exported to The Lower East Side of NYC.

The LP’s title track is a fine example of what The Libertines are capable of when they put their minds to it. Noses to the grindstone, these boys CAN write after all. “Up The Bracket” is a fantastic slice of nervy pop energy complete with respectable melody & pristine delivery. “Tell The King” could well be having a go at the poor (aw, bless) hacks who ultimately hold the reins of The Libertines career in their sweaty silver crossed palms:

“Like a journalist you can cut & paste & twist”

And then they go all Donavan at the end & slightly spoil the sentiment (but those wonderfully taut arpeggios really show off yr. picking skills, boys. Ummm. Nice). “The Boy Looked At Johnny” is where the wheels fall off: Parsons & Burchill are careerist traitors & naming a song after one of their piss poor books is not top bombing rock & roll referencing, right? Oh, & the nursery rhyme isn’t up to much either.

“Begging” & “The Good Old Days” fill up the rest of Side 2 – you can here the gaps rattling with emptiness (I say fill up, what I really mean is filler - & to pull a stunt like that on yr. debut LP suggests that being in a rock & roll band is not the job for you). The Jam, The Adverts & the ghosts of a dozen 60s movers haunt these grooves – I’d have waited until next year & done the job properly. Tales of rent boy pasts, moody shape throwing, been there done that ambivalence – a do I care air? (that’s Brum vernacular, not a Mike Skinner lyric, by the by). Nothing a good session of hard nosed song writing & idea development couldn’t alter, as closer & debut 45 B-side, “I Get Along”, proves only far too ably. Here’s the rub: they can do it when they want to – they’re just a bit fucking lazy, if the truth be told.

Already marked down as a “fragile” unit with a tendency to “fight amongst themselves”, the over powering aroma of “this could be my big chance to make something out of my life” looms large in The Libertines dressing room. They are talented boys with decent record collections, for sure, but they need to slow down & think about it all a bit more. It’ll all be over in the blink of an eye & they’ll all be back sucking old men’s dicks for £5 a gobble soon enough. Why rub it till it bleeds?

Maybe it was the sight of Mick’s balding head on the inside sleeve. Maybe it was the tour with Supergrass. Whatever – you’ve been sussed.

I was really looking forward to The Libertines debut LP. I say was. I could’ve waited till next year.

Marquee Smith – – Nov 2002
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