Carl Barât: Carl Barât

Carl Barât isn't perfect, but by comparison to his other post-Libertines musical efforts, it's the first real sign there's something more to Barât than what we've been led to believe.

Carl Barât

Carl Barât

Label: Arcady
US Release Date: Import
UK Release Date: 2010-10-04

Between the two sides of the Libertines, I've always argued that Carl Barât was the more musically intriguing, though he certainly failed to give me much support over two dreary efforts with Dirty Pretty Things, his Libertines-lite response to his more notorious partner Pete Doherty's Babyshambles. What I probably meant was that Barât was a slightly less irritating public persona, or perhaps not as likely to steal spoons from a dinner party to cook heroin on.

So, what are we meant to make of Carl Barât, a debut solo album released in conjunction with the artist's autobiography and in a year that saw him tackle a number of other media opportunities as well as reuniting with the Libertines for a string of festival cash grabs? Has Barât spread himself too thin, or is he merely best when keeping busy? Perhaps it's a bit of both.

His work with Dirty Pretty Things was always too close to home to matter much, so it's understandable that Barât felt the need to finally fly solo with the material he's got here. And the album is at its best when Barât lets his flair for the dramatic seep in, as on the swirling Brechtian "The Fall", as well as on the set's opener, "The Magus", which sounds like what falling down a flight of stairs in an early 20th century music hall might possibly have felt like. "So Long, My Lover" is also ludicrously, gloriously dramatic, with sweeping strings and the voices of angels and ghosts entwined throughout.

But the news isn't all good.

"I carve my name on the livers of my lovers" isn't the worst lyric on the album, but it's doubtful it'll ever make a Hallmark shortlist, either. First single "Run With the Boys" is a fun little romp, though so are the Jam's "Town Called Malice" and half of the Motown-infused tracks Mark Ronson produced from a few years ago. Dimestore psychoanalysis is a drag, but so is listening to the dreary "Ode to a Girl" and "Death Fires Burn at Night", which at least has an interesting title. So, what say you, Carl? Are any of the lyrics about Doherty? Are all of them? "This is the song I never wrote for you," Barât sings on "Irony of Love", one of two tracks included in the release given to the press that aren't part of the album proper. Doherty? Maybe. "He's gonna get his fucking head kicked in, he's gonna die in a fucking loony bin." More likely.

Carl Barât is put together like a tragic soundtrack, and because the artist has a history of baring his personal issues in song, it's hard not to assume every word is about Doherty. The duo's fractured, drug-addled relationship has made for terrific tabloid fodder for the past decade, but even in column inches, Barât always seems to come up short. And it isn't just in red top headlines where Barât's been a step behind, either. Doherty was the first to strike outside of the Libertines with Babyshambles, the first to release a solo album proper (last year's Grace/Wastelands) and at least by measurement of released material, is the more prolific songwriter.

Regardless of how much of the muck and mire Barât has really sunk himself into, he's always come off as a semi-committed Method actor looking for an angle to sell an image. What makes his solo debut an enticing prospect is that he's finally comfortable coming clean about his theatrical ambitions. Carl Barât, when it works, is a thrilling proposition, not because he's suddenly a great pretender in a world of art, but because that's what he's always been.

And so the inevitable comparisons. Though his fragile range might imply otherwise, Doherty's delivery is a more natural fit for stark confessionals. But while Doherty's tired tabloid shtick has created a sense of two-dimensional drama, Barât is far more adept at grand, dramatic musical gestures. Carl Barât isn't perfect, but by comparison to his other post-Libertines musical efforts, it's the first real sign there's something more to Barât than what we've been led to believe.





'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.


Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.


PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.


Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.


'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.


Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".


Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"


'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.


Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.


DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.


On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.