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The Libertines – The Libertines

The LibertinesThe LibertinesRough Trade

If Neil Young was right and every junkie’s like a settingsun, Pete Doherty is burning some serious daylight. In the two yearssince his band the Libertines released their gloriously sloppy debut, Up the Bracket,the 25-year-old singer/guitarist has struggled with an epicsubstance-abuse problem. Last year, he burglarized the London flat ofLibertines co-founder Carl Barat, serving two months in jail. And thisJune, he fled a rehab program at a Thailand monastery; according to aBritish newspaper interview, Doherty spent the next three days holed upin a Bangkok hotel, ordering heroin from room service. At press time,the band had replaced their troubled compatriot with guitarist AnthonyRossomando.

It’s possible this album isn’t entirely aboutDoherty’s travails and the toll they’ve taken on his bandmates. ButBarat suggested otherwise at a festival in July, when he dedicated theband’s noisy yet wistful new single, “Can’t Stand Me Now,” to theabsent Doherty. The first song on The Libertines, “Can’t StandMe Now” opens with a cymbal-crashing false start, then two tenderguitars jostle for space while Barat and Doherty trade lines that soundlike fragments of an argument (“You twisted and tore our loveapart…If you wanna try / There’s no worse you could do”). It’s agreat, sad song, even if listening to it feels like eavesdropping on anintervention.

It was platonic boy-love that made Up the Bracket soboisterous–Barat and Doherty sang and played like they couldn’t decidewhether to beat each other up or make out. This time, that love’s onthe rocks, and the result is a dark, tense record, but one stillcrackling with life. The Libertines is also the follow-up to analbum that made the band overnight Brit-rock stars, which means thatthere are songs about the vicissitudes of fame. On “The Man Who WouldBe King,” Doherty sings, “I lived my dreams today / And I lived ityesterday / And I’ll be living yours tomorrow / So don’t look at methat way.” He sounds authentically terrified.

There’s no telling how the Libertines will fare in the longrun; the shows they played in the States last year without theirerstwhile co-founder were pretty bleak, and they still bash along likea teenage mutant Clash. But they’ve developed an ear for the refinedpop that’s as much their national inheritance as sneering pogo punk.”Don’t Be Shy” and the lovely breakup song “Music When the Lights GoOut” are more than kinda Kinks. There’s very little romance inself-destruction when you get down to it, but every so often, ajunkie’s also like a Waterloo sunset.

Grade: A-