Junk Mail: The Libertines 'Anthems for Doomed Youth' Album Review
Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Ryan Middleton, Johny Blue and Lindsay Haddox chat about The Libertines' new album, Anthems for Doomed Youth.
Carolyn Menyes: It's been over 10 years since the world got a fresh new album from The Libertines, and here we finally are with Anthems for Doomed Youth. There's always been something incredibly magical about The Libertines. The way that Pete Doherty and Carl Barat interact on record and on stage is so intense, and I have found in my musical listening life that there are few things better than when those two weave their voices together. The Libertines' self-titled album is one of my top three favorite albums of all time. So, to say I was excited for this record is a bit of an understatement.
Did it live up to all of the hype that I built up? How do The Libertines work in an alternative rock world they helped to create?
To answer my first question: no, but how could they have? And to answer the second: they still fit in magnificently and I am SO HAPPY THEY ARE BACK.
Johny Blue: Welcome back Libertines! While I'm not familiar with their past work, I will definitely be getting acquainted after today. Nothing makes me happier than British accents, Beatles-esque harmonies and ska influences. No seriously. And it's all there. Within the first few records I was reminded of The Smiths and Oasis. It's safe to say the project flows incredibly well, and there's a playful element in the vocals that makes it feel lighthearted despite housing songs like title track "Anthem for the Doomed Youth" and "Dead for Love."
Again, being unfamiliar with their catalogue I feel their album lives up to their billing as a garage rock revival band and think they fit nicely in the current alt rock world. Not a bad set up Carolyn, I think it was just enough hype. I'm jamming! Lead single "Gunga Din" is already a standout for me. What are your thoughts Lindsay?
Lindsay Haddox: I feel terrible saying this, but like Johny, I didn't know much about The Libertines either. I'm very happy to be introduced to them though because I'm digging this record and wish I would have started listening to them earlier in my lifetime. Back to the music, I feel influences from Oasis as well and at the beginning of "Iceman" which reminds me the of beginning of "Champagne Supernova" with the waves introducing the song, that could just be a coincidence though. I also find resemblance in their music to The Growlers latest record. I find myself thinking as this record as beautifully dark. Best example I can find is "Dead for Love" with lyrics "And now, now he lies dead / He's dead for love." Its instrumental is pretty with the piano; it's not something you would think of with a song with it's name. As someone who didn't know much about The Libertines beforehand I really appreciate their newest album and am enjoying listening to it.
Ryan Middleton: The wait has been a long one for The Libertines. The struggle between two frontmen Carl Barat and Pete Doherty has been one the main headlines since they started releasing music along with Doherty's drug problem that has alienated him from his bandmates. It appears that all of these issues have been resolved and everything is hunky-dory and they are back on the right track making music and touring.
To answer your question Carolyn, did it build up to the hype? No. A band that was doing so well in the early 2000s and then just stopped to come back 11 years later are going to have some issues with a comeback and it will inevitably be different as each member will be in a different place creatively, but there is still the quintessential Brit-alt rock sound, as you can here how they say house in "Iceman."
When we compare to other decade comebacks this year like Sleater-Kinney, The Libertines may just come up a little short from reaching the top slot.
What are some highlights for you guys?
CM: It is interesting, in some ways, that 2015 is the big year for comebacks for legendary alternative acts. I wonder what's in the water... I don't know what it is, but I'm in to it.
And I agree, there's something a little more aged about The Libertines here that makes this comeback a little less punchy as Sleater-Kinney's. (No Cities to Love is still maybe my favorite album of 2015 so far) Never mind the band's music video for "Gunga Din," where they all look like total and complete sh*t, but you can definitely hear the 11 years of that rock 'n' roll lifestyle in Doherty's voice especially, but Barat is no spring chicken, either.
Sonically, I think this is actually really in line with what The Libertines have always done. It has a little more meat to it than their debut album Up the Bracket, but they still play with hard, punky beats and pop-filled hooks in a way that is just SO influential and distinctive. "Gunga Din" is the best example of this and it was a smart choice for a lead single. What The Libertines have ALWAYS done best is blend together their experience in the rock world with lyrics, and "Gunga Din" tells this story perfectly. "Oh, the road is long / If you stay strong / You're a better man than I / You've been beaten and flayed / Probably betrayed / You're a better man than I," Barat and Doherty sing about the perils of fame.
I love this about The Libertines as well as the play between Barat and Doherty. So other favorites for me include "Fame and Fortune" (which literally talks about crawling to Camden again), "Heart of the Matter" and "Dead for Love."
Really, look at it, the play between the lyricism and their real life is brilliant.
JB: I'm making my way through listen No. 2 and really getting into the lyrics. Underneath the fact that these are all really fun listenable tracks, they are incredibly well written and produced. "Anthem for Doomed Youth" stands alone on just lyrics, and reads like a song from Eagles or Led Zeppelin. Really epic storytelling and imagery. I'm not fully familiar with Pete Doherty or what his voice was before, but he sounds great to me. Real vocalist can find their way around a record no matter what, and as my first time hearing him his voice sounds full of personality and grit. I love the opening line in "You're My Waterloo." "You'll never fumigate the demons / No matter how much you smoke". A really great set-up for a song about a dysfunctional relationship. Again, really digging this project.
LH: So after you all have brought up "Gunga Din" I took a really intense look into the songs lyrics and in general did a bit of research into the band. That song is a fantastic song, but I think it brings up more then just the perils of fame. From reading the lyrics it brings up what Doherty went through with drugs and in general addiction. "I tried to write, because I got the right/ To make it look as if I'm doing something with my life/ Got to find a vein, it's always the same/ And a drink to ease the pain and suffering." When I first listen to the song it sounds very chill, relaxed but upon listening to the lyrics you realize how much pain there is.
Since this is a comeback of sorts for The Libertines, it seems that this album is focused on their lives, past and present and how it has weighed on them. Since The Libertines broke up it seems they have gone through a lot in their own personal lives and this album reflects that and I think that's what makes this album really good. They aren't hiding from anything and they are putting it all out there.
RM: The album does have the same types of vocal hooks and guitar melodies that made them so popular, but the wear of Doherty's rock n roll lifestyle is clearly heard in his voice. The harmonies in his voice alongside Barat are still solid, but their is some strain heard in some of the louder notes.
All of that focus on the sudden fame and fortune could have been why they went to go record this album in relative secrecy in Thailand away from the craziness of the fans and media in the U.K. and America. It seems to be the central theme in LP as evidenced by some pretty obvious song titles like "Fame and Fortune," with lyrics in that same song "If you are looking for fame and fortune / Walking the streets of London / Looking For crossroads everywhere / Hold on to your dreams, however bleak it seems / The world they may not listen, but the devil may care."
The 11 years away from making music (though they did do a few gigs over the past five years), appears to have matured them to a point where lyrically they are in a more centered place and can explore more personal themes. It makes sense for Barat and Doherty to discuss this since this external and internal battle has dominated the past 15 years of their lives.
CM: And that's what has always been so great about The Libertines! Johny and Lindsay, you keep talking about how you'd never really listened to this band before but you're already getting a clear sense of their identity, which is really honest and punchy yet catchy. It's a sort of marriage between tabloid culture (of which Doherty used to be very entangled in) and punk rock.
I think even if you remove that, there are some beautiful bits of music in here. The guitar work in the opening bars of "The Milkman's Horse" and the way it plays against the breathy vocals of Doherty and Barat is really simple and pretty. When contrasted to a loud electric banger such as "Fury of Chonburi," which is tracked right before it, it shows the sort of range that The Libertines can pull off.
JB: I think range is a key word here. From the very beginning with "Barbarians," it's very clear this is a band well aware of their ability to blur rock genres and generations and flexes it throughout the album. At any given point of this record you could feel like you're in a different year all together. I did some further research on our friend Doherty and it brings a lot of the songs subject matter into perspective. This is clearly a star who after years of hard partying and drug abuse is much calmer and reflective.
Each song is poetic and nostalgic, some even feel like cautionary tales. It's the bittersweet reality of being a rock star, some of the best material comes from some of the more damaged of artist. This album is true to that. Even with that kind of foundation, this album still feels fun and refreshing.
LH: I agree with John, the lyrics from this album do seem very reflective upon events that have happened in their life. After 11 years of not making an album together it only seems right for them to creatively put their past into songs. Each song tells a story of their own and it's done very well. They have used music as a way of therapy for their past and created something a well put together album along the way. We can say what we want about not living up to their past, but in terms of now days (not 11 years ago) artist can lack in the connecting with the audience through lyrics department from time to time. However, The Libertines can connect to all types of people through this album and I really appreciate that.
RM: The range instrumentally may be the most underrated part of the album. They have softer songs like the title track "Anthem For Doomed Youth" and "Dead for Love" versus some more blues-influenced compositions in the bonus tracks like "Bucket Shop" and "Love On The Dole" and then the high energy tracks like the single "Gunga Jin" and "Barbarian," which could be a hit for their next round of touring and festival gigs.
It isn't all just catchy guitar riffs and well-written song lyrics though. The drumming and bass plucking from Gary Powell and John Hassall respectively keep the tracks together with the occasional quick solo. The opening piano in "You're My Waterloo" makes me want to belt out "Can we get much higher" before it gets really somber, diving into the harshness and hope of love.
I think it is good that they aren't trying to entirely recreate what they once we were. it would feel less authentic if this was a 2002-2004 copycat album that could have just been a re-recording of old demos and didn't sound fresh and relevant to them. It may not be as magical to Libertines fans who hold that era in with a special air of nostalgia, but this is a new and exiting chapter for the band.
Other then just their lyrics and them coming back together after 11 years, I really like the instrumental this album has to offer. You can listen to one song that beautiful piano work like on "Dead for Love" and then you can listen to a song like "Belly of The Beast" which starts off showcasing the drums.
This album may not be like others, but it seems that after some pretty rough years The Libertines just wanted to get together, jam and make some music. Sometimes people don't always strive to have a better album than the last, just something they really love and maybe that's what they were going for here. Not that this is a bad album, just maybe they weren't looking to recreate stuff they've already done.
LH: As someone who is just listening to The Libertines I am impressed with what I heard. I definitely see myself going back and listening to their older work. I appreciate what they did with this album and would suggest this album to anyone who hasn't taken a listen.
Overall, this is a well put together album lyrically and instrumentally. It's also very beautiful and poetic and speaks to their past and creates a connection with the audience and the artist. Definitely a fan now!
JB: I am upset at myself for not checking these guys out sooner. I’ll blame on their extended hiatus. Either way I enjoyed this album. Not only will I continue to listen to it but I will also be revisiting their catalogue. It is a fun and eclectic slice of alt rock that’s got some real heart to it. Definitely a must listen. Lead single “Gunga Din” and title track “Anthem for the Doomed Youth” are must listens. I look forward to uncovering more of this albums layers as I continue to listen to it in the coming weeks.
CM: The Libertines brought that familiar blend in to Anthems for Doomed Youth, doing what they did best just doing it 11 years later. This album felt like magnificent continuity in to what Up the Bracket and The Libertines established all those years ago. While age may have not been the best remedy for Barat and Doherty's vocals, their chemistry is still palpable and just there's nothing better out there. Will this be remembered as a classic like The Libertines? Probably not. But we're damn lucky to have this album.
RM: The Libertines were able to recapture the magic from 11 years ago even after serious personal differences and drugs had them break up. They were able to capture their old alt-rock sound, while still stay modern stylistically and personally in their approach and songwriting.
Is this going to go down in the annals of history like their first two albums? Probably not, if nothing because the first time you fall in love with a band is always the strongest. Nostalgia is one of the most powerful motivators in music. It is one hell of a comeback though when so many things could have gone wrong. More bands need to go and record in Thailand.