If you read the New Musical Express on a regular basis, then surely you
know that Pete Doherty, the most colossal of fuckups in that sea of idiocy
known as the British rock scene, is no longer a member of The Libertines, the
band he co-founded in 1999. For now. These things can change, and hasty proclamations
followed by changes of heart have come before from this
ultra-talented, erratically good quartet.
The Libertines was recorded with
Doherty during happier times; that is, when he wasn't smoking crack, some dishy
info that has helped to sell this rambling
ramshackle of a group. Unlike pop groups of yesteryore (the Libs are just
that, a pop group), they don't seem to hide their vices. There's no
mystery. No "Paint It Black" or "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." The band's recent press release discusses their co-frontman's addiction and
apparent mental instability. It seems vulgar and unhealthily voyeuristic to
know this much. This isn't Fleetwood Mac blowing lines and writing airy rock
about incestuous band orgies. The man is a crackhead. That said, boy,
can they write great songs.
As far as drug records go, this is no Screamadelica. It's basically more
of the same sort of wistful, sometimes hard-charging melodic rock of the
group's first and better release, Up the Bracket. That album was the very
definition of potential-builder. Every rock crit who dug Bracket's
rollicking, good-ole-lad malevolence had no problem branding the Libs the
absolute second coming of The Clash, an easy reference since Mick Jones produced that record, as well as this one. Not a very astute assertion, considering this band has more interest in self-conscious duets about brotherhood and drunkenness and scowling screeds about "Me-first" culture. They're a bit light on "I Fought the Law" bombast.
Their loose, scuzzy sound keeps them far away from sophomore slumpery. The
fast, bullheaded songs start with an always-familiar three-chord
progression. In succession, "Narcissist," "The Ha Ha Wall," "Arbeit Macht
Frei" and "Campaign of Hate" barrel along, melting into one another at the
same brisk pace, leaving the heart of the album flush with vigor. But it's
the slower, dare I say, ballads that lift this album.
"Music When the Lights Go Out" sounds like a plaintive coo
to a lost love. Obviously, with the all the gossip we've got at our fingertips,
it's a bit easier to figure out that this is co-frontman and tortured good
soldier Carl Barat and Doherty's willowy exchange about excess, friendship,
gooey sentiment and sweet songwriting. "What Katie Did" is a common man's
Elvis Costello tune, short on sharp wordplay, chock full of tuneful
lollygagging with a doo-wop refrain. "What Became of the Likely Lads" is an
affecting duet with a punchy, punching chorus. It's also a song that makes
one wonder what the hell this band is doing breaking up/kicking each other
out/robbing one another, etc. Their interplay is so fantastic, it's
frustrating knowing their future is in jeopardy. Doherty, now teaming with some
drug buddies in the appropriately named Babyshambles, is trashing his
bandmates in the press and writing revenge songs. Very Stevie Nicks, Petey.
The album's opener, "Can't Stand Me Now," is a knowing choice for a first
single, starting the album with a flurry of slippery guitar trickery. But Barat
and Doherty harmonizing and riffing back and forth about how much they love/hate
each other is as much about
dysfunctional relationships as anything Harold Pinter could write. And Pinter
doesn't play a mean Fender, either.