(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Album Review: Carl Barat and the Jackals – Let It Reign

By on Monday, 16th February 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

While a fan of Carl Barat‘s last band Dirty Pretty Things in the mid-Noughties, I wrote a poem called ‘Ditching the Shadow’ that expressed my frustration I had for him and Dirty Pretty Things’ music being compared constantly to his legendary partnership with Pete Doherty and the Libertines magic. Inevitably, the same will happen with ‘Let It Reign’, the debut album from his new project Carl Barat and the Jackals. But thanks to the recent promise of a Libertines reunion on record, this time around the musical effort will be seen as potential foreshadowing of the next chapter of the Libs.

After Dirty Pretty Things disbanded in late 2008, Barat focused his energies on a debut solo album, which was met with mixed reviews and confused fans. For Libs and DPT purists, Barat’s latest effort will come as a great relief as a return to form. It’s short – merely 35 minutes and a bit – and on the whole, it manages to be both ballsy and a good swift kick up the arse, while also having moments of pop sensibility. To source his new band, Barat put up an online advert, finding Billy Tessio (guitar), Adam Claxton (bass) and Jay Bone (drums), who Barat says he’s really gelled with: “I was lucky, because I found a bunch of people who genuinely fit together as a gang”. After the tentativeness of ‘Carl Barat’ and the feeling that something was missing, the instrumentation on this new album feels tight and it’s oh so nice to hear the guitars wailing again.

Judging from first taster ‘Glory Days’, with its wonky yet mysteriously catchy rhythm, and just by reading over some of the song titles (‘Victory Gin’, ‘Summer in the Trenches’, ‘War of the Roses’), the subtext of the LP appears to be war, which seems topical given the global turmoil we’re experiencing now. However, if you know anything about the Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things, their enemies weren’t so much governments but people who were trying to tell them who and what they should be, and that theme continues in ‘Let It Reign’. Second single ‘A Storm is Coming’ is a great earworm of carpe diem; replete with la la las, it’s a big singalong.

Barat thunders emphatically in the chorus for my choice for next single, ‘Victory Gin’, “we’re not afraid of anyone / I defy anyone to tell me that I am wrong”; the guitar chords are purposefully fuzzed and muddied for more muscle. It’s a banger. But it’s the almost whispered words in the song’s second verse, “shackled by wires, prank calls and liars / only flesh and blood is real, my love”, that come across far more powerful, as the song reveals itself to be sympathetic to the impersonality of the digital age.

Whether or not it’s true, Libs fans will want to believe ‘War of the Roses’, with its chorus “you’re the greatest friend to me / you’re the only friend to me / nobody cares for me like you do”, is the greatest PDA Carl could ever give to Pete. ‘We Want More’ is the oddball of the pack, sounding like ’80s power pop and is a reasonable success, while ‘Let It Rain’ tries to close the album on a positive note but ends up being too sleepy and forgettable.

Chances are you’re not about to pick up this album unless you like rock. But even my Carl-loving ears started to bleed listening to Barat’s yelling on ‘March of the Idle’, which, despite some softer moments, never really strays from its punishing course, and on ‘Summer in the Trenches’, which could easily have been a DPT b-side. About midway through the album, ‘Beginning to See’ is a welcome respite from the raucousness. “We’ve dirty hands, but our hearts are clean” sounds cliche but in Barat’s surprising lilt with the strumming of an acoustic guitar and even despite being alongside religious imagery (“I don’t mind people changing water to wine”), the sentiment feels genuine. If there’s one take home message of this album, it’s that ‘Let It Reign’ was written and recorded with real heart. Time will tell if the Libertines reunion will take off and be successful. But if it isn’t, it’s nice to know Barat has another band of brothers to thrash some guitars around with.

7/10

‘Let It Reign’, the debut album from Carl Barat and the Jackals, is out today on Cooking Vinyl; watch the album trailer below. The band will be touring starting in 2 weeks in Germany, followed by a North American tour beginning in March that includes a stop at SXSW 2015.

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