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The Libertines

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Album Review

The British press seems eager to add the Libertines to the canon of great British bands as soon as possible. Not just because their music carries on the traditions of previous greats from the Beatles to the Clash, or because of their involvement with already-legendary figures like Alan McGee, Mick Jones, and Geoff Travis, or because their peers in the British music scene just weren't as interesting to cover, but because the band's future always teeters between dazzling and dangerously uncertain. At the very least, they're guaranteed a spot in the history books as one of the most volatile bands ever to come out of the U.K. McGee, who has dealt with such notoriously difficult personalities as Oasis' pugnacious Gallagher brothers and My Bloody Valentine's hyperperfectionistic genius Kevin Shields, has called the Libertines "the most extreme band I've worked with." Co-frontman Pete Doherty's stints in and out of rehab, jail, and the band itself lend the Libertines an unpredictability that's both brilliant and frustrating. The Libertines' self-titled second album — which was released when Doherty was out of the band, awaiting trial after pleading guilty to possession of an offensive weapon, a switchblade he picked up after fleeing rehab in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand — ends up being frustratingly brilliant: it's not a pathetic last gasp from a band crumbling under the weight of its troubles, but it's not entirely a rallying, rousing cry in the face of these problems, either. Yet, considering how shaky Doherty's own existence, much less the Libertines', often seems, it's more than a little remarkable that as much of this album works as it does. Both Doherty and Carl Barat have grown as songwriters since Up the Bracket, and this album's best songs use Doherty's problems and the duo's strained camaraderie as fodder. On "Campaign of Hate," the single "Can't Stand Me Now," and "What Became of the Likely Lads?" they find common ground and sardonic fun in being inelegantly wasted: "Blood runs thick/We're thick as thieves." But most of The Libertines' strongest moments aren't necessarily its catchiest ones; rave-ups like "The Narcissist," a putdown of the "professionally trendy," and "Arbeit Macht Frei" fall flat, and "Don't Be Shy" is a draggy mess made more uncomfortable by Doherty's stumbling, burned-out vocals. However, when the Libertines don't pretend that the party is still going on and give in to their collective hangover, the album really takes shape. Interestingly enough, the band's darkest moments shine the brightest, and The Libertines' most ambitious songs seem to have been the easiest for them to pull off. "Last Post on the Bugle," "The Man Who Would Be King," and "The Saga" have a martial intensity and plenty of angry, self-aware lyrics ("You dig my bed/I dig my grave"), but these songs, "Tomblands," and "Road to Ruin" still feel more effortless than the album's stabs at lightheartedness. Ever since their first single, "What a Waster," the Libertines' experience has been about life imitating art imitating life, and The Libertines is an accurate, sometimes uncomfortable reflection of the band at this point: more scattered and unstable than they were on Up the Bracket, but also more ambitious and more interesting. If they can somehow hold themselves together without losing the tension that gives them their spark, The Libertines might prove that the people who called them "the most important band of their generation" weren't being hasty after all.


Formed: 2001 in London, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '00s, '10s

The Libertines joined the pop fray of 2002, competing with the likes of the Strokes, Hives, Vines, and Doves with their debut single, "What a Waster." The Bernard Butler-produced track entered the U.K.'s Top 40 in June, leaving NME to crown the Libertines as the best new band in Britain. The double-A-side song "I Get Along" earned Single of the Week on BBC Radio 1. The London-based band, who inked a deal with Rough Trade in December 2001, featured Carl Barât (guitar/vocals), Pete Doherty (guitar/vocals),...
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