Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 80)The Libertines
opener “Can’t Stand Me Now” represents the peak as The Libertines as a singles act because it’s one of the few times they seemed to give a shit about a single. While most of the time The Libertines were content letting hooks come accidentally, “Can’t Stand Me Now” is the rare instance when they sharpened their key abilities - muscular rhythm section, deceptively infectious melodies, a ramshackle momentum - into a fine, chart piercing point. And they did it for their bitterest song.
As predictable as the rising sun, the rock band embarks on their first big tour and grow weary of each other. Pushed to mutual exhaustion, the band can channel this tension into some of their best work, worst work, or just plain break-up. The Libertines gave us a great single, possibly their best. “Can’t Stand Me Now” finds best buds Carl Barat and Pete Doherty trading spiky barbs as they reveal that respect between longtime friends is a facade that comes down at the slightest push. “An ending fitting for the start,” begins Barat, “You twist and tore our love apart.” “No you’ve got it the wrong way round,” responds Doherty, “You shut me up and blamed it on the brown.” The song peaks during the titular refrain, Barat and Doherty passing it back and forth like clenching fists under strained smiles.
If The Libertines had let that focus and tension inform all of their sophomore album, it’d be their best. Instead we get “Can’t Stand Me Now” and closer “What Became of the Likely Lads?” bookending 12 tracks of shamble rock that sounds like The Velvet Underground eagerly rehearsing Loaded
. None of it’s bad but it does became indistinct after a while, tracks blurring together. Highlights like the manic “Don’t Be Shy” or the shoop-galang-galang of “What Katie Did” don’t come around often enough and, when they do, don’t peak high enough. Still, even if The Libertines
can’t eclipse Up the Bracket
, it still manages its share of strong tunes. “Music When the Lights Go Out” has a lovely last-waltz ambiance while “The Ha Ha Wall” reveals The Libertines entire modus operandi was just an alternative to boredom.
The Libertines flamed out in true rock ‘n’ roll fashion. They came, they released two albums in two years, and by their third they were done. While they were around they created a greasy new sex symbol in infamous drug-hoover Pete Doherty who would overshadow the band’s vital rhythm section, particularly drummer Gary Powell, whose muscular playing and honest-to-god chops kept The Libertines in line. Maybe they didn’t change the world like the NME thinks they did but they had a good time regardless. And hey, they even managed to all stay alive long enough to fulfill the inevitable 3rd act of the rock ‘n’ roll band; reuniting for money.