Review Summary: The Libertines as you've never heard them before.
The Libertines were probably one of the most energetic, volatile and ramshackle bands of this century so far with their extreme live performances and furiously paced tracks earning them comparisons with 70’s punk bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash. However before the listener indulges themselves in this gem of a demo collection created by joint lead singer Carl Barat in 2001 they have to do one thing, throw all previous Libertines associated assumptions and ideas out of the window because this is a million miles away from The Libertines’ later work, (well aside from a couple of tracks). In fact this is more a swing record than anything with Doherty adopting a Sinatra like swagger as the songs are much less full on and more complex at times. It really does sound like something plucked straight out of the 60’s.
Music When The Lights Go Out is the first track, and would later appear on The Libertines second and last record, The Libertines. It’s rough and Doherty’s vocals are far from perfect but it’s nevertheless charming with Doherty painfully describing a break up that would eerily go on to echo his own with Barat. The tender violin compliments the song well. Hooray For The 21st Century involves Barat and Doherty effortlessly swapping verses as the melody swiftly slows down and speeds up, it also includes some fantastic imagery “They washed up a pale thin girl alone in her ivory tower, scratching her skin with the thorns that grow on the stems of the wild flowers”. Some of the song was later incorporated onto Narcissist on The Libertines.
Doherty once said that Love On The Dole was the best song he ever wrote and it’s certainly a highlight. It’s got a real vintage feel to it and takes its name from the novel of the same by Walter Greenwood, about working class poverty in the north of England during the depression of the 1930s. Again, the song is lyrically superb with lines such as "Up in my dust and gloom I burn my secrets to keep me warm". Bucket Shop isn’t quite as strong as the preceding songs, the lyrics indicate a life shattered by drug abuse, with the knowledge of what is happening but no intention of stopping, sound familiar?
Sister Sister is the only Libertines song ever recorded with bassist John Hassall taking the lead vocals, and would later be released by his current band, Yeti. It’s another vintage sounding track, you can almost picture yourself blowing dust off it before you listen to it, the song has a strangely Brit-poppy feel to it at the same time. Hassall actually sounds a lot like Doherty and does a decent job on vocals,. Anything But Love sounds similar to Sister Sister and is probably superior, like many of the songs on this compilation it has very romanticised lyrics “Bring tin cups of wine and cigarettes, come to me in pirouettes”. The chorus is also insanely catchy, possibly even single material.
France is a soft acoustic ballad wrote and sung by Barat, his voice is very delicate in this lovely little track and while it won’t exactly get your pulses racing it’s nevertheless an elegantly delivered number. The last song, 7 Deadly Frenchmen is a promising sounding instrumental that would later be converted into 7 Deadly Sins, an excellent B-side.
As far as demos go these are fantastic, although undoubtedly rough and lo-fi some of the songs are beautifully crafted and strikingly different to the official Libertines releases, this is the REAL Libertines, what they SHOULD have sounded like, with a bit of tidying up and a couple of extra tracks this could have been a classic album, as it is it’s one of the best compilation of demos you’re ever likely to hear.