The fact the Libertines have reunited to do some shows is not a surprise. Bands are reuniting all the time, this is not unusual in this day and age. What is a surprise, however, is the fact they have recorded an album, eleven years after their last one in 2004. The Libertines continue to pulverize opinion, you either love them or you hate them. Those that dislike them remember the very public relationship difficulties between Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, as well as Doherty’s very well publicized drug problems. There are also those who think their music is too one-dimensional and dare I say it boring. At the same time, they are well-loved British indie darlings, particularly by the music press. They were a band who took indie out of the 90s and brought it down a peg back to the level of the people, this after the heights of Britpop. So the fact they reconvened in Thailand of all places to record new music caught some people unawares but has made this reunion just that more interesting in the knowledge that new music would follow suit.
The album is titled Anthems for Doomed Youth, a title which in itself is perhaps more relevant than ever for a majority of today’s youth who are struggling in a firmly entrenched neo-liberal society. In terms of the word anthems, well, the Libertines are good at producing rousing anthemic indie rockers. You just have to look back at some of the songs off their first two albums to see this. But ten years after their last record, what would the 2014 Libertines sound like? Would the new tracks stand up and are new audiences ready for the rousing and very personal anthems that the Libertines are known for? Well, after several listens to this album, I would say yes. The likely lads are back and perhaps they are better than ever.
The album kicks off with “Barbarians”. This is classic Libertines with very catchy vocals, and Barat and Doherty harmonizing in the choruses. This track also has quite a Pulp-like sound to it, which in itself is quite interesting. Next is the reggae-sounding “Gunja Din”. This was the first track that was released and is very unlike the Libertines in terms of style. Was it the Thai surrounds that made them go down a reggae path? Or were they just caught up in a desire to experiment? Either way, it sounds good and it shows there is more to this band than just straight out indie rock. “Fame and Fortune” is a very British pop track with nods to the Kinks and Blur, Camden and London, while “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is a rousing ballad that I can just see thousands of people sticking their cigarette lighters in the air too. Side one then ends with an old track “You’re My Waterloo” and the bouncing rocker “Belly of the Beast”.
The second half of the album kicks off with “Iceman”, a great track that sounds like it could have come from a mid-90s Blur album. This is followed by one of the standout tracks on the album “Heart of the Matter”, which is sure to get pubs, clubs and festival crowds singing in unison. A couple of weaker tracks then emerge in the form of “Fury of Chonburi” and “The Milkman’s Horse”, but luckily things pick up again with the fantastic “Glasgow Coma Scale Blues”. This is a great track full of driving guitars, great vocals, and a brilliant chorus. The album then ends with “Dead For Love”, another softer ballad, something the Libertines are not known for, but which appear quite a bit on this album. Along with the main album, the deluxe edition contains some fantastic bonus tracks which are also worth checking out. “Love on the Dole”, “Bucket Shop”, “Lust of the Libertines” and “7 Deadly Sins” keep in line with the quality found on the album and only serve to extend the idea that the Libertines have come back with a bang on Anthems for Doomed Youth.
So in summing up, my thoughts on Anthems for Doomed Youth is that it is a great return for the Libertines who many thought were done as a recording act and would fade away into indie history. They seem to have matured as a recording act and their songs seem more crafted and melodic than a lot of their earlier work. The classic Libertines sound is still there in the form of great harmonizing and the ever-present minor chords (are they ever not playing in a minor key?), but at the same time, they have shown a willingness to experiment with other styles and not simply just sit and attempt to re-invent the past. The band have been touring and playing festivals and by all accounts aside from one incident before a show where Pete Doherty had an anxiety attack, everything has gone smoothly and they have been well received by audiences. Where to now is any ones guess, as the previous history with this band suggests anything is possible both good and bad. But if this is the final Libertines album, it does hold up well musically and would be a fitting way for the boys in this band to go out on.