September 9, 2004

Self-Destruction in 45 Minutes

Print More

The Libertines actually sounds like frontman Pete Doherty’s sensational life. So much of it fails to make sense and does so, it seems, deliberately: Doherty’s vocals slur together into an incoherent mess of would-be poetry, and his guitar solos hesitate just enough to make them obtrusively sloppy. Colliding background voices, whistling, and incomprehensible spoken-word lyrics endeavor to make the album as disingenuous as they possibly can. The sense of the album is that if Doherty could get it together, The Libertines might actually produce something sincere. What the album’s falling-apart tracks remind us of, though, is that sincerity is boring.

And yet the album’s imperfections make it entirely charming. Produced by Clash guitarist Mick Jones, The Libertines’s sophomore release is just uncut enough to sound unself-conscious, which is a quality Pete Doherty can’t help but embody. The addict’s been in and out of jail, in and out of rehab, and, as the album explains, in and out of the band. In some ways, The Libertines acts as Doherty’s autobiography, tracing the trials of both his drug use and his sordid friendship with bandmate Carl Barat. In other ways but at the same time, it seems to act as his therapy, the medium through which his saga can materialize into something meaningful.

Thus despite efforts to sound lazy, unskilled, and hung-over, Doherty and Barat manage to pull together some wonderful moments. The album opens quickly and fiercely. The opener and single “Can’t Stand Me Now” seems to start mid-song, mid-chord even. It plunges the listener into Doherty’s unabashed despair as he sings, “Cornered, the boy kicked out at the world / The world kicked back a lot fucking harder.” The instrumentals to the song contrast nicely with its dark lyrics, which are slantingly sung. The instrumentals alone are upbeat and melodic, affording the song its radio-friendliness. The lyrics, though, approach morbidity. Perhaps reflecting the duality of an addict’s life or perhaps just a clever arrangement decision, this kind of ingenuity persists throughout the album.

Take the last song, “What Became of the Likely Lads,” for example. If the band set out to make an almost-great album, they nearly failed thanks to this outstanding track. In it, Barat and Doherty share vocals, seeming to exchange apologies. Barat opens by singing “Please don’t get me wrong / See I forgive you in a song,” and Doherty joins him to sing together “Just blood runs thicker, oh / We’re thick as thieves.” Then, in a kind of reconciliation, Doherty answers Barat’s “If it’s important to you” affirmatively with “It’s important to me.” As though they couldn’t end the album with such optimism, the band tacks a hidden track on to “Likely Lads.” A slow, acoustic follow-up to the fast-paced ender, the hidden track pulls us back into Doherty’s misery and confusion. Annoying in its effectiveness, the unpracticed ditty, in which we can hear Doherty’s heavy breathing over the guitar, reminds us what The Libertines is all about: addiction, mania, and music so good it makes you think that it takes those things to produce it. (3.5 Towers)

Archived article by Lynne Feeley
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer