You read this in dark times. A band soldiering on without, arguably, their spiritual core, playing festivals with a set that suggests what is lacking rather than what you can hear, while their shining light is dulled by a crippling addiction to smack and crack. Hard times indeed, Mr. Dickens.
To review this record while putting aside the drama of the Libertines’ personal lives is impossible. Not least because, from the very start, they have made the two indivisible. Secondly, the album reeks of the fractious relationship between Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, the errant son. This is a “personal” album in the most emotive, empathic and moving senses of the word.
The lyric sheet is littered with references to their troubles and their incredibly moving pleas to each other not to let the bright spark that informed their first album, Up The Bracket, sputter out. In the hands of any other band, a lyric like “Trust in me, take me by the hand” (from “Road To Ruin”) would reek of forced pathos, but given the circumstances, it comes across as a true cri de coeur.
Despite everything, the record fizzes with ebullient anglo-rock energy, all stop-start guitars and wayward melodies. The likes of “Can’t Stand Me Now” and “The Ha Ha Wall” furiously toot the bracket (Libs’ slang for cocaine) of their predecessor, and snort out compelling angular-rock vitamin shots.
With one half of the songwriting duo claiming they won’t let the other back in the band until he’s quit drugs and the other saying he’ll quit drugs if they let him back in the band, the future looks bleak. This album looks increasingly like a tombstone. Maybe the brightest lights burn for the shortest time.
The Libertines: www.libertines.org.uk