Album Review: The Libertines – Anthems for Doomed Youth

By on Wednesday, 2nd September 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

The Libertines Anthems for Doomed Youth album coverI was of two minds when I heard The Libertines – with a reasonably sober Pete Doherty to boot! – were planning a comeback album. When you go for years and years for one of your favourite bands to return (read: waiting for one of the principal band members to clean up his act and escape from the brink of death), it’s only natural to be sceptical about the results in front of you when the day finally comes.

First taster ‘Gunga Din’, which was unveiled to the public back in late June, furthered my scepticism: while it had the requisite “la la las” to get the devoted fans behind it and plucky, bluesy guitar lines in the verses, the rest of the lyrics left me cold. I’m not sure why things changed – perhaps it’s the deep transformation I’m going through personally that’s responsible – but as the plays of the song have ramped up on BBC 6 Music in the weeks that followed, I now find myself singing along to it, smiling.

I feel sympathetic to its message going back to Kipling’s original poem from the 19th century about an Indian water boy who saves a soldier’s life before his own sad, untimely demise and its relation to the song’s chorus. “Oh the road is long / if you stay strong / you’re a better man than I” seems to parallel Doherty’s way back from addiction, as well as Carl Barat‘s steadfast support of him through thick and thin, even when things looked bleak for his best friend. If there is one victory that stands out above all about this album, Doherty completed this drug treatment program at the start of this year in Thailand, where production by Jake Gosling and recording took place. In stark contrast to what played out in the recently released documentary on the late Amy Winehouse, this story has a happy ending. It represents two things we all need as human beings: hope and strength.

On the surprisingly, beautifully tender ‘You’re My Waterloo’, Doherty’s rendering of someone beloved with so much strength could be a reflection of himself: “just say you love me for three good reasons / then I’ll throw you the rope / but you don’t need it, because you’re the survivor / of more than one life”. On the other side of the spectrum, the down and dirty groove of ‘Glasgow Coma Scale Blues’ (with Doherty’s wail sounding reminiscent of ‘The Haha Wall’) is rocking harder than you’d ever remembered from them, which is another astonishing development. Somewhere in between lies the ‘Iceman’, a folky, vaguely cowboy ballad that you can’t help but imagining Barat and Doherty writing cross-legged on the floor sat across from each other like they might have in the old days. True friendships last.

‘Doomed’ seems a funny word to include in an album title, and I have to wonder if the band included it because the legend of the Libertines still looms large from their popularity in the Noughties. It’s not a presumption this album will be compared to ‘Up the Bracket’: it will be so, and to many people. In ‘Fame and Fortune’, the cheeky lines from the chorus “we’re like tin soldiers, responding to the call / to Camden we will crawl, one and all” will make you grin, even if the minor key melody in the rest of the song doesn’t grab you. The first two Libertines’ albums were rallying cries of youth because the band were in their early 20s then, so it’s unfair to compare their motives then and now.

The magnificently energetic ‘Heart of the Matter’ (“no-one can hold a light to your misery”) and ‘Fury of Chonburi’ are the closest you’re going to get to the ‘old’ Libertines, if you’re planning to do some moshing and pogoing at their future gigs. But it’s hardly the norm on ‘Anthems for Doomed Youth’. The lite rock style of the title track is led by Barat’s still strong voice crooning, “life could be so handsome / it’s all gonna be okay / we’re going nowhere / ‘cos nowhere, nowhere’s on our way”. Does comfortable complacency seem strange coming from the same lads who complained there are fewer more distressing sights than that / of an Englishman in a baseball cap”? Maybe, for a bit.

But I have to admit, I rather fancy this mature version of the Libertines. They’re not trying to be something they are no longer. I reckon this is less reinvention than making the kind of music that makes sense to them heading towards middle age, and if Doherty stays clean (and I hope and pray he does), this band has legs as long as they want to keep it going. Hooray for the Libertines!

8.5/10

‘Anthems for Doomed Youth’, the Libertines’ third album and their first in 11 years, is out this Friday, the 4th of September on Virgin EMI. The LP will be released in several different formats: standard 12-song CD, deluxe CD, 12” vinyl, digital download and a box set. (Whew! Well, what did you *really* expect after 11 long years?)

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