The Libertines “The Libertines” (Rough Trade Records)
You can tell when a group really starts to get famous. The promos stop arriving. The ‘press office’ don’t need the underground now their babies have gone over ground. Who needs fanzines? 15 minutes is never enough.
“The Libertines” arrives with the group at the summit of media-mountain. Pete is estranged from the group, Carl is in charge - & Captain Ahab Magoo is single-handedly sailing the ‘good ship’ Albion through some of the choppiest waters it has yet encountered. Cause. For. Alarm.
The overall impression “The Libertines” evokes on first play is: will this do? The magic initially appears to have deserted the sinking ship along with the bonhomie. Where “Up The Bracket” was celebratory, inflammatory & edgy “The Libertines” is confused, restrained & muffled. Where “Up The Bracket” sounded focussed, a group on the cusp of discovering their true power “The Libertines” sounds like two separate groups fighting to escape from the restraints of mistrust & misplaced ambition. If The Libertines want to be the new Clash they’ve gone from “The Clash” to “London Calling” without bothering with “Give ‘Em Enough Rope”. At times the wilful raggedness crosses that fine line between ‘to kool for skool’ & ‘quite frankly rather sloppy’.
After 3 listens “The Libertines” is still sounding markedly thinner than “Up The Bracket”. It sounds like it’s in need of a series of hearty meals & some decent shut-eye. I’m sure The Libertines collective hearts are still in the right places. Maybe it’s the weight of expectation piled upon their slender shoulders by the incessant hype that’s causing them to slouch. Maybe it’s just me. Bitterness is everywhere right now. Disillusion is king.
We’re into double figures it may have taken a few days - but it’s starting to come together now. I like the cut of its jib. I like the relaxed ‘live’ studio feel. I like the fact that Mick Jones just has to be there for his magic to rub off on his charges (smoking a spliff & doing his little dance!). I like Bill Price riding shotgun. I like “The Libertines” as much as I like The Libertines. Can’t say fairer than that.
“Can’t Stand Me Now” A song of mythical proportions. It’s all their own work! Bitterness never sounded so appealing. Have they enough to keep it together or do they just go on pretending?
“Last Post On The Bugle” More maritime association. This stomps as it swaggers as it slouches. Effortlessly lazy. Hideously addictive.
“Don’t Be Shy” The vocals fall apart at the edges. The guitars shamble like drunken babies. Traditional elements rear their heads, caps are doffed to heritage The Libertines sound older than ever.
“The Man Who Would Be King” This ‘qoutes’ “Tell The King” on the intro - before dropping into a Smiths-esque groove replete with la la las. Pete & Carl trade shrouded insults dressed as inverted compliments. Is that a nod to The Strangler’s “Golden Brown” on the outro?
“Music When The Lights Go Out” Does it still feel the same for you? Do you still get that buzz? Did we turn left when we should have turned right? How did it come to this? Magical, haunting, effective & demonstrative rock n roll.
“Narcissist” Closer to the “Up The Bracket” material than almost anything else here. Rocker.
“The Ha Ha Wall” Rounder, sounder, lost & found her. Pick up your guitar & spin a web of sound. Crunchy!
“Arbeit Macht Frei” Anti-Nazi sentiments akimbo. How queer. Rampant Punk shredded racket.
“Campaign Of Hate” Hate spreads. Youth is wasted on the young. Don’t poison the minds of those who follow. Poor kids dressing like they’re rich. White kids dressing like they’re black. Oh my god!
“What Katie Did” Shoo wop. Do wap. Do what? Innocence, unrequited love & polka dots. This is lovely. Truly.
“Tomblands” Pete & Carl move into ‘song-share’ territory or ‘time-share song options’ or whatever the ‘turned on’ modern business ‘musician’ refers to it as. Expect a Babyshambles version soon.
“The Saga” As with all sagas this is set to run & run. You’ve got a problem. No, you’ve got the problem. I’m a pimp. I suffer from diminished responsibility, me.
“Road To Ruin” Hey, ho let’s have our title back. Is he Russian? No, he’s taking his time. Dragging his feet. Looking backwards instead of forward. Older than the hills & twice as tall. Over my head & far away.
“What Became Of The Likely Lads” Thelma, pet, don’t you think you’ve stretched this myth as far as it will go? The ‘perfect’ bookend to “Can’t Stand Me Now”? Too perfect? That’s up to your own credulity.
Will this do? It better had. At the end of the day it’s all your going to get. Make the most of it. The Libertines are beyond criticism in the eyes of many. It’s down to you now. It’s your money.
Spot the mistakes. Spot the smack references. Fun for all the family.
Melvyn Blagg tMx 16 08/04