Tuesday 4 November 2014

The Libertines

Nestled away at Track 4 on the Libertines debut album is the track "Time For Heroes".  An in 2002, it probably was.  The band were already the darlings of the NME, and were soon to cross-over into mainstream media courtesy of Pete Doherty's "colurful" life.
Time For Heroes?  An anti-hero perhaps.  A widely recognised anti-hero whose exploits certainly helped the band achieve further recognition, and possibly contributes to their ongoing legacy.

Formed following a seemingly chance meeting between Carl Barat and Pete Doherty (Barat was sharing a flat with Doherty's sister).  Shared musical interests and ambitions saw them both abandon their academic studies (Barat: Drama, Doherty: English Literature) and take to the stage - their early gigs were primarily at the flat Barat and Doherty now shared.

Their first proper demos were recorded in early 2000.  A change of line-up (Drummer Gary Powell and Bassist John Hassall), and a showcase event saw interest from Rough Trade.  By the end of 2001, the band were signed to Rough Trade.

Their first single ("What A Waster") was released in June 2002.  Although acclaimed and coupled with their first NME front cover, sales were low, and airplay scant to non-existent (although this may have something to do with the the "slightly fruity Anglo Saxon" in the lyrics).
Whilst not exactly re-writing the rules of rock & roll, the song lays the template of the bands sound (rough, dirty edge guitar power chords, thumping drums and a twin vocal attack) which was to be employed throughout the remainder of their life.
Second single ("Up The Bracket") arrived in September followed the next month by their debut album.

That first album was a dust-clearing, statement of intent.  A burst of pure adrenaline, wrapped in a bedshit-low-life-"Elegantly Wasted"-chic type package.
A collection of short, sharp songs imbued at times with a romanticism, at other times with a definite edge.
They weren't stretching the boundaries, but what they were doing was providing an object lesson of how to mix Garage Rock, Punk, Pop and a soupçon of sleaze.  There are times when it is almost an unlistenable mess, but the energy and commitment of the band keep the attention.

Tensions in the band were rising, most noticeably on stage where performances were curtailed due to in-fighting, or simply din't happen at all as either Pete Doherty or Carl Barat failed to turn up (in fairness to Carl Barat, it was usually his sparring partner who was a no-show).
Following a show in Germany, which Pete Doherty did not play, he was effectively sacked from the band - Barat refused to play on stage with him unless he straightened out.
Then in a scene which wouldn't be out of place in a farce, Pete Doherty was arrested for burgling his bandmates flat.

Surely, this was the end ...

Carl Barat met Pete Doherty straight from Prison, and it seemed normal service was resumed as they went straight and played a gig in Kent that evening.  This was followed by more shows in London, and then, a couple of months later, back into the studio for album number 2.

The second album maintains the signature sound, and in places is even more ramshackle than the first (it feels like some of the songs weren't truly honed, just chucked down to get them done).
The prime difference here is the songs have a harder, less wistful edge, with moments of biography and lost friendship.  The album is bookended by two such songs ("Can't Stand Me Now" and "What Became Of The Likely Lads" *) which are the pick of the tracks here (with "What Katy Did Next" a close third).

* unfortunately, this is not a cover version of the theme to the 1970s sitcom.  A part of me, however, wishes that they had done that song.

After the release of the album, the band fell apart when Doherty was excluded from the band (again) until he'd cleaned up.  This reformation seemed further away with the release of the debut album by Babyshambles (featuring Pete Doherty) and the formation of the Dirty Pretty Things (featuring Carl Barat and drummer Gary Powell).

Taken side by side, the initial releases from the pair stand up (although the Babyshambles offering 'Down In Albion' does take a bit more listening to).  The Dirty Pretty Things release ('From Warterloo To Anywhere') is to these ears the de facto third album from the Libertines, retaining the recognised sound and also including another of these "Story Of The Band/Relationship" type songs in the shape of "Bang Bang You're Dead" (although Carl Barat denies any suggestion of this, perhaps putting it down to mere coincidence on the part of the listener).

The Dirty Pretty Things stumbled on for another couple of years, folding in 2008, and Babyshambles managed 2 albums before going into hibernation - returning with a new album in late 2013.

The Libertines reformed for the Reading and Leeds Festivals in the summer of 2010.  The appearances received acclaim from the press and the public, but in true Libertines style, nothing more happened as they went their separate ways again.
They broke the silence again with an appearance in 2014, and then embarked on their first tour for 10 years.  It was also intimated that there may be new material in the offing.
This being The Libertines, it may of course never happen and the whole project will descend into acrimony, arguments, and another split where the two main protagonists refuse to talk to each other for another 3 years.  Then they'll try again ... and again ... and again.

Up The Bracket

Can't Stand Me Now

Dirty Pretty Things - Bang Bang You're Dead

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