With The Libertines once again skirting around the edge of the news, the time seems right to take their second album to task. Commercially far more successful than Up The Bracket, it still stands as a bone of contention for many fans who see it as a self-involved, unnecessary bookend to a career that had already burned brighter than all bar few. Whether or not the mooted third record will frame it better is to be seen, but for now here's the case for and against. Gentlemen, handbags down please.
I wasn’t big into The Libertines when the first album came out. I don't know why: I was 18, lived in a nice house in a crap town. I wasn’t particularly disillusioned but I knew I didn’t want to be there much longer.
I knew they were around, ‘What A Waster’ obviously, but it was The Strokes that did the business for me: ‘Last Nite’, ‘Someday’, ‘New York City Cops’, that 10/10 NME review, that in-sleeve. They were imbued with a louche cool that was as natural as it was impossible to ever attain. The Libertines, well, The Libertines only ever seemed like their poorly cousin (which, in a way, perhaps they were).
Then I went to uni, and so with nights and mornings spent on the couches of people that knew, so my appreciation for Up The Bracket grew. And with good reason: it’s a glorious album, full of bangers, balls and baseball caps.
‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ dropped and suddenly they felt the most vital band on the planet: a band falling apart before our eyes in the biggest tabloid wet dream since Lord Lucan. Doherty went to prison and came out into the embrace of his pal. Gigs were missed and laundry was aired, all under the watchful eye of a nation’s headline writers. The likelihood of a second album never seemed further away.
And then, “An ending fitting for a start/You twist and tore our love apart”. It wasn’t just the fact ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ made you dance (which it did). For those of us that had bought the story, even if we’d got there a little late, it felt like the perfect opening line to a final chapter.
But it wasn’t just about the opener, or ‘What Became Of The Likely Lads’, or ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’. Songs not so explicitly about them seemed to be weighed down by their shared history - "I am too clever to follow you down to dark and stormy weather", from 'Don't Be Shy', for example.
Yes, it is probably a bit long, and certainly self indulgent. But then so is London Calling. I get that for fans of a certain vintage, those gigs at The Forum were when Albion set sail. But for me the tale would have always been incomplete without The Libertines.
The pub argument of indie bands that truly changed culture roughly follows the line of The Clash - The Smiths - Oasis - The Libertines. Clearly this is a narrow minded viewpoint and rife for conjecture but when 18 and hearing Up The Bracket for the first time I'd sooner have argued the sky wasn't blue than that timeline wasn't inarguable fact.
Rocky roads of excess lead to palaces of perceived wisdom, apparently, and to me The Libertines represents the death of the band's charm. I speak as a man who was foolishly 2 paces off branding himself from here to eternity with the band's infamous tattoo - in the parlour walking towards the chair, worse than this: it was due to be on my hip.
The story is well documented across blogs, books and bodily limbs but after sprinting home from HMV Solihull with The Libertines and playing it for 24 hours straight songs like 'Can't Stand Me Now' & 'The Sage' left me disappointed. Not just because everyone now knew the various scandals but also because seemingly that was all there was left to know. As a fan that was ready to swallow the oceans the Albion sailed upon, to my ears the album soundtracks the tall ships smashing off rocks.
It would be contrary to say it's a bad album, but justified to say it doesn't wink, nudge or tap dance anything like its predecessor. Their genius was conjuring a world and inviting you in, originally introducing listeners to not just a band but a colourful curtain call of misfits and ne'er-do-well; Rabbis, Mr Razzocks, Scarbourgh Steve, Wolfman and even Johnny Borrell. But with this album there wasn't enough room for anyone but the now infamous ‘Pete n Carl’.
Amongst the album and lifted directly from the cherished Legs 11 demo, 'Music When Lights Go Out' was called up and re-recorded: like bringing light in on magic it exposed something precious to the scrutiny that would ultimately destroy it. Not unlike the band themselves. They say never go back, because it's rarely what you remember and largely what you forget.
The Last Post is a night playing strictly early to mid 00s indie, this Valentine's Day at The Stag's Head in Hoxton. They'll be playing songs off both Libertines albums, plus loads of other dancing tunes. Get all the info here.