Carl Barat, of Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things fame, blazes a furious, punk-inflected trail with a new band of sidemen.
Widely known as one-half of the combustible songwriting duo in early-aughts rabble rousers, the Libertines, Carl Barat is back with a solo outing released with his newly formed backing band, the Jackals. Titled Let It Reign, the album blasts through in a short and compact ten-track, 35-minute running time, leaving little space for breathing room as songs are fired off in rapid succession with a degree of critical urgency. Although Barat wrote much of the album’s material prior to the tryout style auditioning process that led him to the current members of the Jackals, he’s stated in interviews that his desire to flesh out his songs with a stronger punch was a reaction to his hesitancy to seem “apologetic” about his songs. He wanted to take a proactive approach to this material, and after a few spins of the album, it’s hard to argue with his vision.
The aura of the Clash hangs heavy over the material, with the rumbling rhythms of lead off track, “Glory Days” (featuring a nice cameo from longtime Beastie Boys percussionist Alfredo Ortiz) setting the template that also pops up again in the nervy propulsion of “Summer in the Trenches” and towards the end of the album, in the call-and-response intensity of “The Gears”. Barat rarely pauses for breath, but when he occasionally does slow things down, he transitions smoothly, like on the surprisingly elegant spiritual manifesto “Beginning to See”, a track that alarmingly brings a small string section to the middle chorus and bridge. Rather than feeling completely out of place on a furious album like this one, the strings bring a nice charming awareness and sensibility to the music, as if even Barat acknowledged the need for a brief respite before stepping back out into the turbulent roar of noise that soon picks back up.
“A Storm Is Coming”, in addition to serving as the album’s lead single and probable best track, anchors the material and displays a convincing confidence in Barat’s vocal delivery. He commands the song, singing with a cool brashness that calmly battles through the weary trials and ominous possibilities foreshadowed in the lyrics: “I don’t mind / I know a storm is coming / Things won’t ever be the same again / You can run this time / It has to be now or never / Sooner or later it has to end." You may interpret that chorus as a nod towards Pete Doherty, his friend/Libertines collaborator/sparring partner for the past decade and a half, and whose addiction struggles have famously plagued their relationship.
Barat more directly addresses their union’s tempestuousness a few songs later, though, in the song “War of the Roses”. Over a heavy swath of guitar fuzz and a blissed out grungy rhythm section, Doherty outlines a history of joyfully shared shenanigans and their resulting negative betrayals and hardships before coming to the conclusion that just maybe the two of them are made for each other: “You’re the greatest friend for me / You’re the only friend to me / Nobody cares for me like you do." When critics and fans wonder what keeps the two gentlemen coming back to work with each other after so much repeated upheaval (like they are now reportedly doing in Thailand, prepping for new Libertines material), this song can serve as a good primer as to the reasons why.
Barat’s next moves are uncertain. Whether he keeps this current incarnation together (they have only a scarce few live dates scheduled), reconfigures Dirty Pretty Things -- his other band of acclaim -- or returns to co-fronting the Libertines remains to be seen. In the interim, however, he’s made a smash with Let It Reign. It’s an affair that is much more snarling and punkish than solemn and introspective and one that appears to have been a good representation of what he had in mind. It feels triumphantly inspired, loose and off the cuff, but filled with enough gravitas to be celebrated and valued. And, as a listener, a fun and exhilarating 35-minute journey.