The Libertines, by The Libertines
Suggested by Matt Smith
Review by Saira Gorringe, aged 40 and two months.
It’s the year 2000, I’m 19 and have somehow ended up in London, living just off the Cally Road with a shared kitchen in the hallway. If I hang out the window, I can see Pentonville Prison. A month later I move above the music venue I’m working at, when we’re sat on the roof, we watch pickpockets at work on the tourists coming out of Camden Tube Station. I get my tips in drugs, I get beaten at pool by a trip hop DJ, a Britpop band member steals the dummy I wear as a necklace, I clean up an ear from the floor of a punk gig, I pick A-listers out of their own vomit, we play Scrabble. Life is grubby but rarely boring. Pete Doherty is probably doing similar at the bar he works at down the road in Islington. I don’t know, I’ve never heard of him, shame, I always enjoyed a catch up with another Manics fan.
Sidebar – the only time I got star struck was running into Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers, where my cool, studied, ‘don’t give a f**k’ demeanour was ruined when I went bright red, screamed, and ran and hid in the tech cupboard. Incidentally, yesterday was his birthday: Happy birthday Nicky.
Somewhere in the depths of the internet there’s a letter that Pete wrote to the NME discussing how his real education came from reading up on all the references that the Manics put in their songs. This was the same curriculum I studied as a teenager, whole heartedly reading everything they referenced. The comparisons between Richey and Pete have all been made; tragic poets, or manipulative dick heads; talented working-class youth, or overrated hacks.
The Libertines have been a divisive band. See comments on today’s randomiser video for a quick taste of that, or that this album is seemingly on every ‘best ever’ and ‘most overrated’ lists. At one point the only guaranteed way to see them was to go to their flat for a scummy ‘party’ thrown at short notice when the drug money ran out – this was far more reliable than buying a ticket to a scheduled gig.
Anyway, what about the album. A portrait of an imploding friendship. The picture on the cover was taken at the gig they performed the night Carl Barât picked him up from Pentonville Prison, having served his sentence for burgling Carl’s flat (can we say co-dependant?). But, before the album is released, he’s asked to leave the band again.
As for the music, well… they don’t hide their influences, ska, The Kinks, The Stranglers, The Manics, The Doors, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, romanticised history, Billie Holiday, it’s all in there, it’s all recognisable, or, as with “Last Post on the Bugle”, just straight up stolen.
Co-written by Mark Keds, my standout track is “Can’t Stand Me Now” takes the usual romantic form of a duet to document the break-up of their relationship. There’s drama, and self-pity a plenty “cornered the boy kicked out at the world, the world kicked back a lot f**king harder”, it’s fast and earnest, and I’ve never not believed “I know you lie, I’m still in love with you”.
“Music When the Lights Go Out” is a beautiful melody, simple rhymes in the lyrics echo the simple awfulness of just falling out of love with someone. While “Tomblands” was literal decades ahead of the current ShantyTok, although much less clean cut. The Saga takes its words from a letter Pete’s friend wrote to him about his drug use becoming a problem, he at least gets a writing credit though.
“What Became of the Likely Lads” another meditation on the fall of the band, more lyrical than Can’t Stand Me Now, with a dig at the music industry wanting their piece – “They sold the rights to all the wrongs, And when they knew you’d give me songs, Welcome back, I said”. But who could have predicted that a couple of decades later they would be opening a BnB in Margate? Funny how things turn out really.
Stuart Emerson said earlier that I wouldn’t be able to write an unbiased review of this album. Correct. Not even going to try. There’s no way I could unpick it from my personal history to do so. I give this 8/10, your milage may vary, but quite honestly, I don’t care, take your joy stealing snark elsewhere.
[Craig’s Review – Just like Saira, I too can’t divorce this album from my very personal opinions. Because every time I see a picture of Pete F**king Dohery, I want to punch him in the f**king face. I hate him. I hate his face, I hate his aesthetic, I hate his history, and his privilege, and his grubbiness, and his drug abuse, and his wallowing, and his flouncing. I detest the fact that he’s been pictured forcing his kitten to take a hit from his crack pipe. I hate him, and everything he stands for. I also hate, hate, hate, that I don’t hate his music. I don’t particularly like it much, as it reeks of pretension and smugness and insincerity, but the man has song-writing chops and a swagger of sorts. Like Saira, I think Can’t Stand Me Now is the standout track, and I almost enjoy it, but then I remember I hate the prick so I’m back at a score of 2/10. Forcing drugs on a kitten… you don’t come back from that.]