Anthem for a Doomed Youth
11 September 2015/out now
James Beeson, Editor, passes his verdict on the likely lads first release in 11 years
For Libertines fans, ‘Anthems for a Doomed Youth’ represents a metaphor for something the naysayers never thought possible; a new album from a band many had consigned to the history books. A botched Reading festival headline set in 2010, followed by last year’s gigs at Hyde Park and Alexandria Palace, widely believed to have been a money-making scheme to fund guitarist Pete Doherty’s determined attempts to kill himself with Heroin, meant that the cynics amongst us doubted we would ever see the band release another full length LP.
It was somewhat unexpected, therefore, when ‘the boys in the band’ announced early this year that they were working on a new album, which duly arrived, (albeit a week late and after two cancelled gigs) much to the delight of the London quartet’s loyal fanbase, earlier this month.
Is ‘Anthems for a Doomed Youth worth the wait? In a word: Yes. Drawing on a wealth of experiences, dramas, squabbles and drug fuelled rock & roll rampages; The Libertines have created a modern masterpiece that rightly cements their place as one of the most important British bands of the 21st century.
Doherty wordsmanship is clearly unaffected by his ongoing battles with addiction. He and co-writer/best friend/worst enemy Carl Barat are the perfect foil for each other as they discuss their vices, ‘Got to find a vein, it’s always the same,’ drawls Doherty on the reggae inspired ‘Gunga Din’, whilst Barat can speaks bleakly about his battle with depression on ‘Belly of the Beast’: ‘Back in London’s grey scotch mist, staring up at my therapist/He says ‘pound for pound, blow for blow/You’re the most messed up motherfucker I know.’
The breakdown in Barat and Doherty’s relationship features heavily throughout, ‘You thought that they were brothers, then they half-murdered each other,‘ Barat offers on the title track, before a thinly veiled dig at Doherty’s subsequent solo career, ‘Then he did a karaoke turn and murdered our best song.’ On ‘Glasgow Coma Scale Blues’ Doherty attacks Barat’s decision to replace him in the band with Anthony Rossamando in 2004 ‘You think it’s easy/With a best friend who deceives me?’
Despite the personal barbs, however, the duo’s special relationship holds the chaotic frame of the band together. Doherty offers a touching tribute in the form of early demo and album highlight ‘You’re my Waterloo’ – a song believed to be written about Barat, whilst Barat acknowledges on ‘Fury of Chonburi’ that he cares about Doherty, ‘I do wish him well/ I got him under my spell.’
In amongst the turmoil, there are also classic Libertines quips. Little details, like Doherty’s memo-to-self outro on ‘Gunga Din’, ‘Oh what are you doing, you stupid fucking idiot? Wake up!’ serve to emphasise the middle-finger-to-the-world attitude that characterises the band. Arrogance has always been a part of The Libertines make-up and ‘Fame and Fourtune’ is another likely crowd pleaser. A cocky-esque singalong, it makes up for what it lacks in depth with a rabble-raising chorus, ‘Like tin soldiers responding to the call/To Camden we will crawl/One and all.’
There are softer moments, too. ‘Iceman’ is an acoustic ballad that has echoes of The Beatles ‘I am the Walrus’, whilst ‘Dead for Love’ is a homage to Doherty’s late collaborator Alan Wass – a chronic alcoholic killed by a £15 heroin deal. It is credit to Doherty’s songwriting and delivery that demise so brutal is made to feel poignantly romantic.
‘Anthems for a Doomed Youth’ combines the very best of The Libertines chaotic early days with a new sophistication developed in the years between the band’s breakup and their subsequent reunion. Whether Doherty and Barat’s fragile friendship will stand up to the demands of excessive touring, and whether good ship Albion can avoid the perils which haunted it’s crew during their formative years, remains to be seen. For now, however, they have earned the right to bask in the knowledge that they have created the finest album of the year to date, and perhaps one of the greatest reunion albums there has ever been.