The Libertines – All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade: Review

Artwork for The Libertines' album All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade

4 starss




The Libertines’ fourth album is more of a band effort than ever before.

About time too.

For too long now, The Libertines have been behaving like a nostalgia band. Part of that is understandable given their impact back in the early part of the century, but given their prolificity first time around their back catalogue is disconcertingly light.

Since The Libertines’ full reformation in 2014 (after a false start in 2010), Carl Barât, Peter Doherty, Gary Powell and John Hassall have toured consistently, with only one album (their third) released in that time.

You’ll likely know that a substantial amount of The Libertines’ time (and money, presumably) has been spent on developing their boutique hotel The Albion Rooms (also a studio, in fairness) in Margate. Fine for them and their more well-moneyed fans, but no substitute for new music.

Thankfully, All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade has been worth the wait. All the elements that made The Libertines mythological are here, and more besides.

The equilibrium of Carl writing the fast ones and Peter the slower ones is broadly sustained, but with notable contributions from John and Gary, their fourth album is more of a band effort than ever before.

First single Run Run Run is classic Carl Barât: boisterously ragged yet urgent with handclaps abound, it’s a spiritual cousin to his solo effort Run With The Boys (and not just because of the title).

Catchy as hell, it possesses a fuller, noisier sound and is about escaping the past, presumably a nod to The Libertines’ own position, while Mustang features the first two of several characters who appear across the album (‘Tracy likes a drinkie when the kids are at school’) with a classic pop melody and Americana imagery, puts through The Libertines’ filter.

Another character (who may or may not be a real person) is given the spotlight on the direct and snappy Oh Shit, while Carl barely pauses for breath on Be Young, almost scat-singing about environmental concerns as one is, ‘wandering away when you’re one degree from total and utter fucking annihilation’.

Where previous efforts depicted ‘Albion’ as a mythical and timeless land, many songs here could only come in the third decade of the 21st century.

On the punchy Have A Friend, Peter provides a suitably impassioned and anguished vocal performance in response to the situation in Ukraine (‘The tears fall like bombs without warning’).

Reportedly starting life as a Beautiful South cover (Under the Covers, fact fans), like much of Doherty’s output it’s frayed at the edges, but the centre is sturdier than before.

Better still is Merry Old England which reflects on the perception of Albion (‘the chalk cliffs once white’) from those seeking refuge there.

It evolves from a stoic rock song into something more considered – with strings reflecting as much – representing The Libertines’ evolution while positing, ‘Syrians, Iraqis and Ukrainians, how you finding merry old England?’.

A career highlight for Doherty, it’s nearly matched by the introspective Songs They Never Play On The Radio, one of two tracks included that have a long history.

The other is Man With The Melody, a John Hassall creation which dates back to their very earliest days. Reportedly never included because of Peter and Carl’s delicate egos (namely, it was too strong), it’s a delicate ballad whose inclusion points to their new outlook: all four members share vocal duties.

Wisely, Peter and Carl don’t offer their opinion on the Royal Family but – being such students of the United Kingdom – cannot let the death of the Queen pass without comment on the magnificent Shiver (‘It’s all too much today, Liz has gone away’). The purest Doherty/Barât song included and The Libertines’ most proficient song to date, the shuffling percussion and haunting guitar elevate it into the top tier of their canon.

While unlikely to be regarded as their best work (the reverberations of Up The Bracket are still being felt over 20 years later), All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade is certainly The Libertines’ most accomplished album to date.

Perhaps not leave it so long next time though, eh chaps?

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