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Review: The Libertines Claw Their Way to Adulthood on ‘Anthems for Doomed Youth’

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: Pete Doherty (L) and Caral Barat (R) of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park on July 5, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: September 11, 2015
Label: Harvest / Virgin EMI

Now that Carl Barât and Pete Doherty have proven they are capable of collaborating again, they can go away and write a better album than Anthems for Doomed Youth. Eleven years after an eponymous record that presaged a series of ignominious public meltdowns, the Libertines have assembled a collection of solid tunes, three quarters of which boast hooks stuck into unsurprising rock arrangements. Anticipating the collapse gave their early-‘00s albums their tension; now the former likely lads want to convince their audience that there’s a point to adult songwriting. “Don’t know if I can go on / Making no sense in song,” Barât and Doherty sing in “Belly of the Beast.” Anthems for Doomed Youth acknowledges that they can’t, which is the problem.

With rue their hearts are laden. I can’t think of another band whose embrace of rock’n’roll’s latent homoeroticism originates from the thwarted erotic drive connecting the singer-guitarists. Barât and Doherty love each other, deeply. Most of their songs chronicle a relationship frustrated by promises broken, disappointments deep, drugs consumed, and ugly tattoos shared. Rather than having sex together, they wrote songs, most of which sounded like sexual frustration incarnate. Gnarled, haphazard, and slightly dangerous in a swing-a-broken-beer-bottle way, 2002’s Up the Bracket was all they could give.

Now even Gary Powell’s drums can’t give these sodden valentines the right kick. First single “Gunga Din” is a fine start, the bass and drum lilting in a light skank while a guitar chops out a heavy rhythm and a crap organ pretends it’s playing on a dub track. “Feelin’ sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Barât moans. “Here I go again, f–k it!” Doherty yells later; a response. “You’re my Waterloo,” goes another tune in which their harmonies are cracked mirrors, gross reflections. Elsewhere the band include three ballads too many — adducing their sobriety? Who says they don’t care about the rock canon?

The best Anthems recall a time when Doherty and Barât could still tickle each other. “Glasgow Coma Scale Blues,” a sort of sequel to Up the Bracket’s “The Boys in the Band,” is a welcome blast of sleaze. “The Heart of the Matter” expresses earned surprise about the state of their tickers without once citing Don Henley; Doherty’s stopping the song to sing “Let’s get straight!” (sure, Pete) earns the album’s biggest laughs. Better a laugh than parsing lines like “We’re going nowhere / But nowhere’s on our way.” What passing-bells for songs that die as cattle?