An air of cynicism has always followed The Libertines.
Ever since their initial heyday through to their 2010 live reunion they've polarised opinion. At worst they're tabloid fodder: rowdy drunkards tumbling shambolically through squandered opportunities. At best, they're a distillation of the British post-Strokes fervour for all things skinny and denim. Their romantic Albion spiel intoxicated many. Their albums, which were heavily allusive, served as alternative reading lists for sixth formers across the country.
Yet for all their anachronistic tendencies they were also more entrepreneurial than people give them credit for. They were the first band to clock the enormous advertising potential of the internet at a grassroots level, taking to fan forums to chat, announce shows and release new material. All of this pre-dated social media and SoundCloud. They were Rodney and Del Boy finally become millionaires through the wonder of the 21st century.
It's little wonder that the edifice they built still stands to this day. It's a legacy that has rested precariously on two full length LPs, six singles loaded with classic B-sides, an indeterminate number of demos, one 2010 reunion documentary dominated by mumbling, and countless side projects of differing critical and commercial success across various different artistic mediums. For a creative core that have notorious struggles with addiction Doherty and Barat have been extremely prolific. Now having reunited proper in Thailand, they seem committed to reclaiming their shared creative platform, and it's in this optimistic fever that we arrive at 'Anthems For Doomed Youth', the third full-length instalment of The Libertines saga.
For a start, it's their cleanest record yet. Jake Gosling's production gives the band more breathing space, allowing bassist John Hassall and Gary Powell added presence as arguably the best musicians in the group. Lyrically, Peter and Carl do what they've always done, weaving through each song an emotional narrative that draws its resonance from short poetic vignettes purloined from silver screen fancies, as in the title track: "You told the governor's wife about the last night of his life / She turned away in tears called you a liar / Where are all the old dreams now? The battalions once so proud? / Lost in some old song and hanging on the old barbed wire." 'Anthems For Doomed Youth' does everything The Libertines did so well, repeating the formula to show that there's still mileage left in it.
They've always relied on a fairly broad set of cultural references, assimilating superficial flourishes from punk, indie, film music, music hall, dub and jazz to bolster their nostalgic sound. On this album little has changed. Opener 'Barbarians' and lead single 'Gunga Din' are both packed with dubby embroidery and rollicking Jam style singalong choruses. Fan favourite 'You're My Waterloo' has been re-recorded with a full piano accompaniment and an astonishing vocal from Peter (with a quirky and forgiveable autotune wobble on his second line).
But the real songwriting muscle on this album comes from 'Heart Of The Matter' and 'The Milkman's Horse'. The former is named after a Graham Greene novel, which helpfully signposts the listener to the fact that the line "with all the beating it's taken, I'm surprised to see it's still ticking" is about love rather than substance abuse. It's a frenzied Morrissey-esque racket of self-deprecating and joyful indie pop euphoria, and it features some of the best riffs on the album. 'The Milkman's Horse' on the other hand, replaces 'The Good Old Days' as their manifesto for the disillusioned: "In my cinematic mind I see battles fought at sea, I awake in dawn's empire" projects Doherty, before him and Barat sing in chorus: "What have you done? Get out of my dreams you scum!"
All this serves to emphasise the fact that 'Anthems For Doomed Youth' will bring more joy to the fans than the naysayers may suspect. The Libertines are a unit once more, this time preparing for the hard graft with their heads firmly on their shoulders. Cynics will continue to write their doggerel till kingdom come, but listeners may just find their favourite Libertines album yet.
Words: Tim Hakki
- - -
- - -