SO HERE WE ARE AGAIN, back in The Libertines’ soap opera – Series 2, Episode 3, in which, under a fragile truce, Pete, Carl and the boys travel to Thailand to make their first LP together in 11 years. And being the Libs, and thus no strangers to self-mythology, Doherty and Barat’s storied trip is explored in the title track.
“They thought that they were brothers, then they half-murdered each other,” croons Barat over a twinkly, late-night backing that swells into an epic chorus. Cromwell, Orwell and references to “racking out the lines of shite” appear. No one could accuse the reunited Libertines of a dramatic reinvention.
Reassuringly familiar, title track – and attendant album – is everything you loved (or maybe hated) about the group: the diarised musings of two poetic souls under fire in the Ypres Salient and Rourke’s Drift of their imaginations, a bottle of gin and vial of laudanum tucked beneath their great coats together with a copy of Hangover Square.
England past and present is, as on their first two albums, inextricably entangled: the tragi-comic figure of Tony Hancock makes a cameo in You’re My Waterloo, another tender, bittersweet, war-referencing ballad, dating from the group’s earliest days – the only track here not cooked up in writing sessions this year in Thailand, where Doherty receives treatment for his addictions.
It’s this powerful nostalgia for their original selves – simple descant melodies, the runaway-bus fast numbers, Pete’s (often annoying) yelps and cries, those stirring shared-mic harmonies, the relentless dark romanticism – that makes Anthems For Doomed Youth better than it really ought to be, as if the last decade hadn’t happened. Credit must go to Ed Sheeran producer Jake Gosling for helping Doherty and Barat rediscover their rare chemistry, with John Hassall and Gary Powell, the ever fast-thinking rhythm section, as ever gluing it all together.
“The Libs are no strangers to self-mythology”
There are several instant classics here: the olde-worlde The Milkman’s Horse, whose bouncy “get out of my dreams you scum” chorus is pure joy; Doherty’s wistful, woozy acoustic drug paean Iceman; Heart Of The Matter, rattling along early Baby Shambles-fashion; the huge sing-along title track and rueful You’re My Waterloo.
Even when things get a bit iffy (which they do), something often comes to rescue, as with first single Gunga Din, whose clumpy cod-reggae verses surrender to a sweeping, earworming chorus. Only Fame And Fortune, a swaying Britpop knees-up eulogising The Libs’ early days, falls foul of needless self-parody and hubris.
Anthems For Doomed Youth must, of course, be an ironic title. The Libertines aren’t young any more, and the doom they once so cavalierly courted has been left instead for the likes of Alan Wass, Doherty’s friend who died early this year and is remembered in the desolate final track, Dead For Love.
As for The Libertines, they’re back in their self-romanticising, chaotic, self-made world. For how long who knows; enjoy it while you can.
Watch the video for Gunga Din: