Most critics agree that the Libertines debut album, Up the Bracket, is the British response to the Strokes. Those critics are right. The Libertine’s sound is like a pair of vintage Levi’s in the $10 bin at the Salvation Army. It is a used style. Still, just because the jeans have been worn before doesn’t mean that they can’t look good on someone else. The Libertines do just that, taking the successful gritty, distinctly New York style of the Strokes and implementing a punky, melodic playfulness that gives it a British accent.
There probably is no better person to foster an emerging British post-punk band than Mick Jones, the legendary guitarist of the Clash. Luckily for the Libertines, Jones (who recently was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with other Clash members) produced their debut. He gave the album the punk edge, which made it distinct from many of the post-rock albums recently released.
The Libertines expel an energy with Up the Bracket that creates the illusion that they recorded it while running around the studio naked, clutching cold electric guitars against their skin, screaming into microphones, equipped only with burning cigarettes and half-empty bottles of vodka. In truth, they recorded the album in just one session, which laced it with a chaotic and spontaneous vibe. But while that energy is consistent through the whole album, some of the other positive elements of the music are not. The melodic finesse and captivating guitars that are extremely strong on some tracks are weak on others.
“The Boys in the Band” is an ideal example of the Libertines using their raw energy to create bright melodies and attractive riffs. This is a standout track with a sturdy percussion backbone that effortlessly fuses punk and pop. Also, the lyrics are singable enough to make all the American girls (in studded belts and patched jean jackets) scream at the upcoming American tour. “So tell me baby, how does it feel / I know you like the roll of the limousine wheel / and they all get them out / for the boys in the band / they twist and they shout / for the boys in the band.”
There are a few other tracks (particularly “Time for Heroes” and “What a Waster,” the band’s first single) that positively shape the album, but most fall into the shadow of “The Boys in the Band.” Still, the Libertine’s debut is certainly worth a listen. Don’t be discouraged by the similarity to the Strokes. It would be impossible for the Libertines to exactly mimic the Strokes having never even tasted the environment of the Strokes. Despite the lyrics on “The Boy Looked At Johnny,” where they sing “New York City’s very pretty in the nighttime,” the Libertines have never set foot in the Strokes’ hometown.
This debut is an interesting prologue to a musical career that has potential to be very prosperous (track six even has hints of early Beatles). Perhaps if they can convince Mick Jones to produce yet another, and they spend a bit more time together in the studio, they could create a notable follow-up album.