PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The Libertines: self-titled

Adrien Begrand

The Libertines

The Libertines

Label: Sanctuary
US Release Date: 2004-08-31
UK Release Date: 2004-08-30

The Libertines are one of those bands who are impossible to hate when they're at their best, but are also a band so out of control, that all too often, they annoy you to no end with their endless parade of public screw-ups. It's like having a bright young relative you're really fond of, turn around and embarrass the family time and again. You want to put your arm around the kid because you love him so damn much, but at the same time, you want to chastise the little twit, punctuating each syllable with a mighty smack to the head, like an old mother: "Why! Do! You! Have! To! Be! So! Freakin'! Stupid???" The Libertines are a band so talented, yet so riddled with internal strife, that the mere thought of what these boys are capable of keeps you interested in their music, despite all the offstage drama. The thing is, though, time is running out, and will our patience start to wear thin?

If I were to go into great detail about the problems this band has endured over the past year and a half following the North American release of their very good debut album Up the Bracket, you might as well print it all up and title it Career Sabotage For Dummies. Basically, it all centers around the well-being of singer/guitarist/primary songwriter Pete Doherty, whose drug addiction has landed him in a whole heap of trouble: he was arrested for breaking into his bandmate's home, he has gone AWOL at numerous gigs, he's done rehab stints in London, Paris, and even Thailand, he was arrested again recently for carrying a knife through an airport... and that's only a fraction of the tabloid fodder he's been through. It seems we get a news story from the UK that speculates, "Is Pete in or out?" every few days.

Recorded right before Doherty's addiction forced him to leave the band, last summer's fantastic single "Don't Look Back Into the Sun" showed the world just how great The Libertines could be, sounding light years beyond the sloppiness of the first album, as the band channeled the exuberant '70s pop punk of The Only Ones so incredibly well, and so joyously, that greatness would be merely an inevitability. This should have been a watershed moment for the band, one that would bridge the gap between the drunken, slurred, charming mess of Up the Bracket and a more fully-realized, tighter, musically rich sophomore album. Instead, things went all to hell, and the high drama began.

Somehow, Doherty pulled himself together long enough to record a second album with his mates, and while that fact is a small miracle in itself, The Libertines, while showing some subtle improvements, has the band starting once again from square one. Only this time, instead of a bright young band eager to impress listeners, the new album is the sound of a band collapsing underneath the mighty weight of drug addiction. More often than not, albums by bands riddled with drug problems rarely make for an enjoyable listening experience, but despite the problems, despite the fact that the new album is, yet again, a half-assed effort, The Libertines is nonetheless a thoroughly fascinating one to hear.

Produced once again by former Clash guitarist Mick Jones, The Libertines is decidedly less raucous than Up the Bracket, with nowhere near as much distortion on the guitars, and an overall more restrained performance by the entire band. While the catchy, upbeat single "Can't Stand Me Now" is a quality tune, there's nothing here that comes close to matching something like "Up the Bracket" or "Don't Look Back Into the Sun". There is decidedly less filler, in contrast to Up the Bracket's forgettable "Radio America", "Tell the King", and "Begging", but you do get the odd dud, namely the goofy mess "Don't Be Shy", which has Doherty spouting incomprehensible, slurred lyrics, all out of tune, I might add. "Last Post on the Bugle", the frantic "Arbeit Macht Frei", and "Narcissist" revisit the sound of the first album, but the rhythm section of bassist John Hassall and drummer Gary Powell sounds greatly improved by a year's worth of touring, while "Music When the Lights Go Out" is a very lovely ballad that wavers into an upbeat chorus before settling back into the verses' mellow groove. Meanwhile, "What Katie Did" uses do wop vocals that are so ridiculously over the top, you can't help but crack a smile, as Doherty and Barat engage in a pair of whimsical (i.e. sloppy) solos as Hassall and Powell hold down the fort.

Gone is the terrific observational wit of such songs as "What a Waster", "Time For Heroes", "Death on the Stairs", and "I Get Along", as Doherty and co-frontman Carl Barat turn the focus inwards, getting much more personal. The strained relationship between Doherty and Barat over the past year is the primary focus, as the pair have it out for over 40 minutes. "Have we enough to keep it together/ Or do we just keep on pretending/ And hope our luck is never ending?" sings Doherty on "Can't Stand Me Now", beginning a dialogue that seems to center on the theme of their strained friendship, and to their credit, we hang on every word.

It's the final trifecta of "The Saga", Road to Ruin", and "What Became of the Likely Lads" that has the band coming closest to realizing their full potential. On "The Saga", he spits, "When you lie to your friends/ And you lie to your people/ And you lie to yourself/ And the truth's too harsh to comprehend/ You just pretend there isn't a problem." A moment later, he becomes remorseful, saying, "I am a pimp and a slave/ And in my bed you dig my bad/ I dig my grave/ And the truth's too harsh to comprehend." To which Doherty snidely retorts, "No, I ain't got a problem, it's you with the problem." "Road to Ruin" follows, and Barat sounds forlorn as he croons, "They drive me crazy, I'm climbing the walls/ So show me the way, the way to the stall/ Cos I'm so sick, so sick of it all," as the song concludes with the funereal strains of an organ.

The last, and best track, "What Became of the Likely Lads", grabs your heartstrings, and refuses to let go, as Barat and Doherty seem to reconcile. Barat sings in a quavering voice, "Please don't get me wrong/See I forgive you in a song," and Doherty whimsically quips, "They sold the rights to all the wrongs/ And when they knew you'd give me songs/ Welcome back, I said." The pair then go on to sing together optimistically, "Just blood runs thicker, oh, we're as thick as thieves," as Barat asks his pal, "If that's important to you," to which Doherty nods back, "It's important to me." If that weren't enough, Doherty adds, "Please don't get me wrong/ See I forgive you in a song/ We'll call The Likely Lads." Rarely do you hear a band wear their collective hearts on their sleeves like you do here, and the end result is both surprising and utterly charming. The bottom line is, these guys are best buds, and neither wants to see that friendship die.

The Libertines, problems and all, are still capable of charming listeners, but with Doherty still battling addiction, the future continues to look bleak for the band. Reviewing Up the Bracket a year and a half ago, I said, "You hope to death that The Libertines can just make it through the next year in one piece." Today, as Doherty continues to get himself in and out of trouble, and as Barat continues to soldier on dutifully, fronting the band without his best friend, you just wish that Doherty can make it through the next year alive. If Doherty could only straighten out his life for good... if only. The Libertines, like its predecessor, hints at greatness, but this time, it really feels like the beginning of the end. What a waster. What a fucking waster.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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