Last week, The Libertines released their first album since 2004, Anthems For Doomed Youth. The Libertines have always been notorious, and their song repertoire until this year has been consistently defined the ideas of hedonism and heartache. A decade later, now they’ve dropped their vagabond, deviant ways, kicked their addictions and turned their backs on prison cells for good. This raises the question of what could they write about to allow them to keep their infamous identity as the boys in the band without re-hashing old tunes and old stories?
However, the new album subdues any fears that they would attempt to recreate the music of their past, at least for the most part. In the past, they wrote about drugs, heartbreak and the inward and downward spiral of Doherty and Barat. Although their subject matter itself hasn’t changed much, their perspective evidently has, demonstrated in songs such as ‘Iceman’ and ‘Gunga Din’ (“Getting sick and tired of feeling sick and tired again”) are proof enough that with 20/20 hindsight, the boys in the band have certainly changed their tune.
Fortunately, for the most part they’ve still managed to inject their brand of turbulent je-ne-sais-quoi into their new music despite their new retrospective tone. They’ve even broadened their horizons to include topics such as depression, tackled without restraint in ‘Belly of the Beast’ with Barat singing, “back in London’s grey scotch mist, staring up at my therapist/He says ‘pound for pound, blow for blow/You’re the most messed up motherf**ker I know.’” Their wandering down memory lane also includes insights into Doherty and Barat’s personal relationship, with ‘Glasgow Coma Scale Blues’ ruthlessly and yet ruefully asking “what happened to the joy in the hearts of the boys.” This album is the product of the wounds and subsequent scars inflicted upon The Libertines in the wake of their implosion over a decade ago.
Unfortunately, there are some songs in which they may have tried too hard to recreate the shadow of their former selves and their younger perspectives, with hollow results. For example, ‘Fame and Fortune’ calls for all to march to Camden with the camaraderie expected of the soldiers that are so often the subject of the Libertine’s favourite poetry, but coming from grown men who have developed into more than the troubled bohemian vagabonds they once were, gives their attempt at recreating the past seem to be a crude caricature.
However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that there are some real gems on this album. Anthem for Doomed Youth is a fantastic example of The Libertines’ unique song writing capabilities, with lyrics rife with references to their own personal downfall that manage to hark back to their good old days in a way that sounds genuine enough to avoid ridicule. We’ve also been treated with the old gem, ‘You’re My Waterloo’, a fan favourite that’s been given a polish and a once over; a nice tie back to the bands’ numerous songs that never made the cut for their first two albums.
Technically speaking the album is sound, and although The Libertines’ ramshackle guitars are still joyously present, the album on a whole seems a lot more clean and tidy, especially when we factor in the synchronised vocals we can hear in ‘Glasgow Coma Scale Blues’ and ‘Gunga Din’. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion, but we can certainly pin this new, more tight-knit sound on their new producer, Jake Gosling. He is an unusual choice, but evidently exactly what the Libertines’ needed to create an album in which the boys in the band have not only maintained, and developed their identity, but additionally becomes an album that doesn’t churn out a hollow repeat of tunes gone by.