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On The Libertines, everything
old is new again – sort of

The Libertines
The Libertines (Rough Trade)


The Libertines, recently named the Best UK band by NME,
played their final show on December 17th of last year. Ever
since signing with Rough Trade in 2001, co-frontmen Peter
Doherty and Carl Barat have been desperately attempting to
fill the rock world’s void of bad-boys, and they have been
moderately successful. Doherty has had a well publicized
drug problem since 2002 when the band first hit the
airwaves, and the singer has left and rejoined the group a record number of times for a band only on its
sophomore album. Nevertheless, with the release of their self-titled disk and bonus DVD, the world has
supposedly seen the honest end of The Libertines. However, it’s hard to believe that things haven’t worked out
exactly the way the band always wanted them to.

The Libertines were discovered by Mick Jones of The Clash, and his immediate affection for the group was
almost certainly brought on by a sense of nostalgia. The Libertines sound like a direct copy of The Clash with a
slight Beatles-esque twist, and while their music is good, so was
London Calling. Band members claim
inspiration from a list that looks like any record clerk’s top ten, including The Smiths, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis,
Nirvana, The Velvet Underground, Supergrass, Isaac Hayes, and, shockingly, The Beatles and The Clash. And
while I’m glad that musicians are still listening to “the good stuff,” it concerns me when a band’s influence list is
generic enough to have been ripped from a meager my-space profile. Still, the band does have a good sound,
and they play their instruments well.

Although Doherty and Barat are usually the focus of attention, the other two members are also essential to the
merit of the group. Drummer Gary Powell has the energy and stamina to sustain the band’s formerly killer live
performances, and on hiatus has played with other punk groups like The New York Dolls. Bassist John Hassall
also seems to be a sort of jack-of-all trades, having now formed the band Yeti in which he sings and plays
guitar. Both of these artists are some of the few modern musicians who cling to the old ways of punk, before it
became an excuse to jump around on stage and bang groupies on the tour bus – and you have to admire them
for that.

The Libertines also shine through with their classically punk intentions, such as the politically spun lyrics on
both “Arbeit Macht Frei” and “Campaign of Hate.” While the punk movement has always had political ties, it is
refreshing to see a more modern band touching on such subjects when there’s not a Rock Against Bush album
to be compiled. That is to say, you get the sense that these guys are singing about hatred and injustice because
they think it’s an issue, and not because that’s what punk rock’s supposed to be.

Despite some political references, however, the majority of the album focuses on the effect of Doherty’s drug
problem, almost turning it into a gimmick. Although the tracks which deal with his issues seem well-crafted and
cathartic, it’s hard to believe that the super-sensitive Doherty was willing to play most of them. The last track of
the album, “What Became of The Likely Lads,” is a tribute of forgiveness to Doherty – something you can picture
him hearing, but not collaborating on. The preceding seven addiction-focused numbers on the fourteen-track
release handle the subject in a variety of ways, from denying addiction to admitting it’s ruining the addict’s
relationships. The strangest element of the entire disc might be the cover art, which zooms in on Barat looking
angst-ridden and desperate while a fragile-framed Doherty extends his pale arm towards the camera.

And when the story of Doherty’s addiction is more famous than the band’s music is, a vulnerable image of an
addict must have been really beneficial to record sales.

Doherty’s drug problem first became an issue during the recording of the band’s first album,
Up The Bracket, in
2002. While touring, Doherty went missing for several shows, and was sent into rehab for the first time in early
2003. While he was gone, the band continued to tour without him, leaving Doherty feeling hopelessly betrayed. In
a supposed act of retaliation, Doherty escaped from his rehab center, and robbed Barat’s house, followed by a
month in prison – shortened from six months for good behavior. After his release, the band actually forgave him
and welcomed him back to the fold.

Although Doherty rejoined the band in October of 2003, by the following year he quit to attend rehab in Paris and
to pursue his side-project, Babyshambles. He rejoined The Libertines in June of 2004, and after only a few
shows, returned to a different rehabilitation center in Thailand. Predictably, however, Doherty abandoned the
treatment and went on a drug binge in Bangkok. Upon returning to England, Doherty was pulled over for
speeding and was caught with an illegal switch-blade in his car. The Libertines promptly requested that he leave
the group, and disbanded entirely soon after. In addition to not wanting to risk Doherty’s feelings, the band
disbanded because Barat has a tumor behind his ear which needs medical attention.

The bonus DVD, “Boys in the Band,” comes with the album and provides an in-depth look at the group’s inner
workings. The extras show members of the group joking in the van, and it would be easy to forget that any of
them had any personal problems with one another. Members have sing-a-longs of songs like “We’ll Meet
Again,” and tease each other and the camera men. Even Barat brandishes a switch-blade at the camera and
talks about how he would never bring it back to England because it’s illegal … a law which police records report
Doherty later chose to ignore. Knowing that story, however, and knowing that the DVD was filmed before Doherty
was arrested with his switch-blade, it’s suddenly very difficult to believe that such perfect foreshadowing
occurred without a little planning. I’m not saying that Doherty deliberately embraced his addiction because it
would lead to the band becoming wildly famous very quickly – but from a marketing perspective, the situation
couldn’t have turned out any better.

The truth is that I am a fan of the music of The Libertines. But I’m a fan because I miss The Clash, and The
Beatles, and the good old days of punk rock. So if you’re going out to buy this album, do it because you know
White Album
by heart already, or you want to see Joe Strummer’s biggest fan imitate his concert style – not
because you’re looking for something new.