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Libertines, ‘Up the Bracket’ (Rough Trade)

The Libertines raise a question that comes up quite often in rock ‘n’ roll: Should we praise a band for seeming like they don’t care? Clearly, the aesthetic that drives Up the Bracket is apathy (or the illusion of same), and that’s problematic. If it’s all an act–if they’re merely constructing the aura of indifference–then they’re the worst kind of charlatans. However, if they’re not faking, then they’re just lazy goofballs, and why should anybody get credit for that?

So how do we answer such a query? I guess we don’t. I guess we just pick a side and hope nobody calls us on it, because this is a great record. Up the Bracket drops off a little after track seven, but its first 20 minutes are like rum and Coke: sticky, sloppy, and totally palatable to the ladies. I’m sure the Libertines are hoping nobody calls them London’s answer to the Strokes, but that’s what they are–they just prefer the Clash and the Jam to Television and the Knack.

The Libertines have two vocalists (Carl Bardt and Pete Doherty), one of whom excels at sneering/singing and one of whom excels at singing/leering. Those same jokers also share guitar duties, and they play like they just woke up ten minutes ago.

Yet there’s something accidentally dynamic about these songs–“Death on the Stairs,” “Boys in the Band,” and especially “I Get Along” are minimal and chaotic, and they feel wholly alive. This is music to play in dark, velvety, womblike bars; this is music to play while buying cigarettes; this is music for well-dressed poor people. If the Libertines represent the first wave of well-Stroked clone bands, we are optimistic.