It's a tad early to start making music industry predictions for 2004, but to these eyes and ears, there seems to be a shift back towards a singles-based music framework, at least on the rock scene: The Buzzcocks' recent brilliant-but-unwieldy Inventory collection, and EPs from the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Kills (to say nothing of countless other acts) -- all of which help point the way toward a renewed singles scene. I'm not here to debate the merits/flaws of the system -- Rare b-sides! Low prices! Short running time! -- but one can't help but touch on them when approaching I Get Along, the latest EP from the hotly tipped British garagesters, the Libertines.
Checking in at five songs and at 11 minutes, I Get Along picks up where their debut LP, Up the Bracket left off. (Literally: "I Get Along" was Up the Bracket's closing tune, and "Mayday" pulls double duty on both the bonus-tracked LP and the I Get Along EP.) The EP's title track, produced by the Clash's Mick Jones (as was the rest of Up the Bracket), is everything that made the LP work -- shredding guitars from Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, Gary Powell's right-out-front-in-the-mix drums and Doherty's mumbly-to-manic vocals. Too many bands are labeled as "the next Strokes" (damning with faint praise in the eyes of many, but still), but I can't think of another frontman who captures both Julian Casablancas' world-weary posturing and ravings better than Doherty.
But aping the Strokes with Mick Jones' help will only get a band so far; credit the Libertines for calling (once again) on former Suede frontman Bernard Butler to put some polish on "Don't Look Back into the Sun". Butler, who twiddled the knobs for the band's first buzz-inducing single, "What a Waster" way back in 2002, makes "Don't Look Back" as crisp, clean and measured as the quartet is going to get; the tune is closer to Britpop than garage. The band continue to ease up on the throttle with "The Delaney", where Barat's clean, stuttering guitar calls to mind the Kinks at their rootsiest. And I'll be damned if Doherty doesn't sound like a ringer for Ray Davies. It's all veddy British and veddy good.
Lest the band not live up to its freewheeling moniker, the quartet drops the Kinks vibe and makes a lot of noise on the breakneck "Mayday". Admittedly, it's kinda dumb, but it's a perfect garage rock b-side: short (1:03), fast, out of control, and it wouldn't have fit on Up the Bracket. Produced by Butler, it punches a hole in my Butler-as-civilizing influence, but hey -- fun is fun.
The EP's closer, "Skag & Bone Man" tries to reconcile the two approaches put forth by the preceding four songs, with mixed results. The "oops! we left the mic on" vocals give way to a near-total derailment of the song; fortunately, the band members remember how to play their instruments in time for "Skag"'s surf-inflected coda. All in all, there's worse ways to spend 11 minutes.
Whether this move to a singles industry will come to pass remains to be seen, but if it does come about, it provides fans with an excellent opportunity to hear the bands they love more often. What completist wouldn't want that? As for I Get Along, if other bands understand the single/EP concept as well as the Libertines do, 2004 could be a lot of fun.