The Libertines – Anthems for Doomed Youth

Uh, The Libertines? Weren’t they that band that did “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” (Nope, that was Jet.) Then I guess they were that Swedish band that all dressed the same and played a slick kinda garage rock, right? (Nope, that was The Hives.) Oh yeah! They were that band with the guy that dated Kate Moss who got busted about a thousand times! I never actually heard them, but I remember they got a lot of press. What did they sound like, anyway? Didn’t they break up a long time ago?

Yeah, the above pretty much explains how The Libertines are remembered stateside – provided they’re remembered at all. But the band was huge in the UK and Europe for a bit. And then guitarist/vocalist Pete Doherty’s, um, “personal demons” got the best of him.

First he’s recording a damned good debut album (2003’s Up The Bracket) with The Clash’s Mick Jones helming production, then there’s a couple of popular singles, then he’s anointed as the “savior of rock ’n’ roll” by the NME, then he’s got a pocket full of cash, then he’s dating Kate Moss, and next thing you know Kate has dumped him. And all of this chaos is followed by more chaos: a decade of arrests, jail stints, rehabs and iffy solo projects for Doherty.

Oh yeah, there’s also the other guitarist, Carl Barat, who had his own problems and his own iffy solo projects – minus the arrests, jail stints and Kate Moss, that is.

When the Libertines emerged in the early oughts, the world was their oyster – for a minute. They did a sassy, punky skiffle thing with a hint of reggae, actually just the merest tweak of The Strokes’ formula done London style. Their timing was impeccable. The world was ready for guitar rock (again) for a moment. The songs were catchy, memorable and chock full of the bad attitude that makes good rock ’n’ roll.

Barat and Doherty were the Mick and Keith of the band (respectively), and they played it well. They loved and hated each other, milking the inter-band drama for all it was worth in the UK press. And they were so damned cute! Barat was the conventionally good looking one, while Doherty was the little boy lost, the disheveled, Dickensian imp with those bloodshot, puppy dog eyes.

Barat and Doherty switched off on vocals – and it seemed they were singing to each other. And for all intents and purposes, the entirety of their oeuvre (just two albums and a couple of toss-off EPs) was nothing more than a bunch of love/hate mash notes. But most of it sounded really good.

Eleven years have transpired since the Libertines’ second (and at the time final), eponymously titled album, which featured “Can’t Stand Me Now” and “What Katie Did,” both sung by Doherty, and “What Became of the Likely Lads,” sung by Barat. It’s as if Barat and Doherty sang their own denouement wrapping up their rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags saga neatly. Their moment had come and gone – but what a glorious moment is was!

So what’s the point of the band getting back together to rehash it all again, 11 years later? That one’s obvious: These guys want money. After all, celebrity lifestyles and drug debts and rehabs and legal representation don’t come for free.

Anthems for Doomed Youth sounds like The Libertines – which is to say it sounds pretty good. But rehashing the “will they or won’t they?” romance of Pete and Carl again, 11 years later, just isn’t getting it for me. Surely there’s something else that has transpired in their lives in the last decade to write about? (Well, thankfully Doherty hasn’t written too much about rehab ’n’ redemption, anyway.) Apparently not.

Anthems is a big budget affair, and Libs’ patented, aargh, “shambolic” sound is bolstered by horns and multi-tracked vocals that do beef it up a bit. The problem is, Anthems is Libs-by-numbers. It’s as though Doherty and Barat are playing old roles for a sequel – which is exactly what’s going down. We already know what became of the likely lads.

The Libertines
Anthems for Doomed Youth