I refuse to dismiss the Libertines as just another "the" band, and for this I receive a lot of shit at the annual music snob convention. It’s not only because I reject the notion that trendy bands must inarguably be inconsequential — I really don’t care what exclusive high school the Strokes went to if they make good music (we’re not in 8 Mile here, people) — but also because I have seen the Libertines in concert, and I know their energy and enthusiasm is currently unequaled. This is music made for people who love the higher ideals of rock ‘n’ roll. Like they said on "The Good Old Days," their Kinks-heavy classic from their 2003 debut, Up the Bracket, "If you lost your faith in love and music, then the end won’t be long."
That being said, it’s no secret that Pete Doherty, the co-leader of the band along with Carl Barat, has lost his faith in love and music, turning to the only remaining choice of the holy trinity of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. His addiction threatened to split up a group that only had three years and one full record under its belt. Day after day, Libertines fans were left wondering if there was going to be a band anymore. It went back and forth so many times it was hard to believe that the new album, which didn’t seem to warrant enough effort from the band to get a real title, was going to be anywhere near the level of the excellent Up The Bracket.
It would be a relief to be able to look at The Libertines without acknowledging such personal difficulties, but the truth is that the struggle is written all over these fourteen songs. Much of the band’s lyrics are self-referencing, but the telltale sign is the production quality, which gives the album much of the same feel as their debut. Up the Bracket was recorded in less than two hours, with the band, which thrives in a live setting, mostly displaying its raw energy, though producer Mick Jones (of the Clash) did a decent enough job to let the songwriting shine through.
The group’s second album could have been the polar opposite of this, or at least demonstrated an evolution in recording styles. Instead, the band was forced to record each song in one or two takes for fear Doherty wouldn’t be back the next day. It gave them another gritty, bohemian record, but after the shock of the raw power on display in Up the Bracket, there isn’t much new to offer here sound-wise.
That this album is still so exciting should show the world just how major the talent is here. This is as strong a songwriting duo as rock ‘n’ roll has to offer, and their songs would shine through any disappointment in production or performance styles. Opener "Can’t Stand Me Now" and highlight "When the Lights Go Out" are instant classics with timeless melodies. A few songs here — "Don’t Be Shy" and "Narcissist," especially — are forgettable, which never happened on the first album. But for every sub-par song is "Campaign of Hate," "The Ha Ha Wall," "Road to Ruin," and "What Katie Did," all of which nearly surpass the band’s best work. Many of the songs here are from the Baby Shambles Sessions, acoustic demos done mostly by Doherty that have been released on fan Web sites. The changes have given the songs solid improvements (i.e. the call and response of "Road to Ruin") while still retaining their strengths.
This bodes well for a time when, hopefully, the band is a strong enough unit to record the album that will allow them to take over the world. For now, the fact that the Libertines are one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands on the planet will just be our little secret.