Over a decade has passed since the self-titled follow up to 2002’s ‘Up The Bracket‘ saw The Libertines reach the peak of their powers.
Bittersweet tales of a band caught up between realising their dreams and the carefree days of pre-fame anonymity were told as the good ship Albion was caught in a storm of hedonistic desires which Pete Doherty in particular struggled to overcome.
Fast-forward to the present day and we see a not-too-dissimilar picture to that of the youthful, ramshackle exuberance portrayed to a generation of lost souls over ten years ago, who pined for a different world to that which they surveyed.
The Libertines have returned with Doherty having cleaned up his act in a Thailand rehabilitation clinic before being joined by the rest of the group for more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ may have been driven by a media and PR swirl of utilitarian campaigns; inclusive of album ‘bundles’, Facebook and e-mail promotions and an eventual upgrade of cancelled intimate shows in Manchester and London to swelling arena venues ill-befitting of the band’s performance style but, most importantly, the songs remain just as enthralling as ever.
Opening track ‘Barbarians’ sets the tone for an album filled with similar juxtaposing sentiments found in previous Libertines tracks, where Carl Barat bellows, “They boxed off your heart, you boxed out your mind”, over reverberating guitar chords. Barat sings of a world which seems screwed up, yet his attitude allows him to make the most of it while Doherty is altogether more cynical.
Hazy vocal lines on pre-release single ‘Gunga Din’ introduce Doherty, openly stating that he, “Woke up again to my chagrin, getting sick and tired of feeling sick and tired again”. It becomes clear this is a record with the same idealism as there always was, yet it’s now embellished with a cautious hindsight which only age can bring. The next generation of Libertines fans still have plenty to sink their teeth into however, wide-eyed self-deprecation leading to a rousing chorus where Barat and Doherty sing in unison before switching back into the staple erratic guitar jangle which will raise a smile from long-time followers.
‘Fame and Fortune‘ is where the fun really starts, a near slapstick Carry On style vocal delivery from Doherty befitting their beloved England of a bygone age, encapsulated by the burgeoning London theatre scene. A Dickensian tale of wandering the streets of Camden seeking fame and bright lights includes a raft of typically wistful metaphors and what appears to be a chilling reference to their own journey: “Hold on to your dreams, however bleak it seems, The world they may not listen, but the devil may care”.
Antiquated idealism continues on the acoustic, piano led double-act of the title track and ‘You’re My Waterloo’. The romantically attuned songwriting of Barat and Doherty has always shined in quieter moments, and at times is often favourable to the garage rock clamour of earlier tracks. Cromwell and Orwell are name-dropped in the former track, where Barat croons a message of pub-based collectiveness in the face of lost dreams and overbearing government institutions keen to dispel hopes of revolution.
‘Waterloo’s melancholic, yet enchanting piano-driven melody provides Doherty with a platform for unrestrained depiction of two estranged lovers battling demons to the brink of near extinction. It’s a difficult listen – in particular because of Doherty’s past – laid bare for everyone with a remarkable honesty.
The latter half of the record includes further gems in the form of the typically runaway train style instrumental found on ‘Heart Of The Matter’, featuring earnest Doherty-led vocals backed by John Hassall and Gary Powell on bass and drums respectively, while the ‘Fury Of Chonburi’ ramps up the volume yet further for a punk infused track scraping the depths of their debut album ferocity.
‘Glasgow Coma Scale Blues’ is a title which stands out instantly on the rundown, and thankfully lives up to such intrigue by representing a clear highlight. Swaggering vocals are interspersed with choppy guitar chords as the track builds into a rambunctious chorus reminiscent of ‘Gunga Din’s joyously choral singalong, before haunting closer ‘Dead For Love’ rounds off an accomplished return for the band.
‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ attempts at winning round a new legion of fans, and will likely be successful, maintaining all the elements of what made The Libertines such an exciting prospect in the first place.
While the Arctic Monkeys have long since cornered the market when it comes to straight talking tales of nocturnal romance and reflection, The Libertines still reign supreme when seeking escapism in a harsh world for a young generation which arguably needs them now more than ever.