Music Reviews
Anthems For Doomed Youth

The Libertines Anthems For Doomed Youth

(Virgin EMI) Rating - 3/10

“An ending fitting for the start / You twisted and tore our love apart”

It’s not often a band has the chance to write their own epitaph, but The Libertines did, and at the time looked to have seized that opportunity perfectly. Can’t Stand Me Now, written at the point where the friction between songwriters Carl Barât and Pete Doherty was leading them towards musical alchemy, drew a veil over a fledgling career whilst also showcasing everything that made them great in the first place. If life is often free-form prose, The Libertines had managed to find a full stop.

Subsequent solo careers for the frontmen and stints with other bands (Dirty Pretty Things for Barât; Babyshambles for Doherty) proved they were greater than the sum of their parts, but no-one was crying out for a comeback. Furthermore, it’s unlikely they could have picked a worse time to make a return. Guitar music is arguably less relevant than ever, and most of their original fanbase has grown up, moved on, and probably spends more time watching Peppa Pig and going to DIY stores than keeping up with new music. In a few years, there would have been enough distance behind The Libertines’ career for a full reappraisal and for a new generation to discover them but as it is, they’re irrelevant to today’s teenagers.

Anthems For Doomed Youth, their first album since 2004’s self-titled LP, begins promisingly. Raucous guitars, an anthemic feel and a chorus underpinned by a strong hook – it’s almost like they’ve never been away. However, it’s such a time capsule that it doesn’t take long to be reminded of The Libertines’ myriad failings: a by-numbers approach, untidy guitars that don’t know where they’re going, and lyrics that would raise a ‘See me’ in red pen if submitted for GCSE coursework.

By the time we’re onto recent single, Gunga Din, you’ve remembered why you hadn’t spent the last decade clamouring for their return. Scratchy guitars are prodded at, and the whole thing sounds like a Libertines parody song that’s constantly on the verge of imploding. It’s entirely devoid of inspiration, as evidenced by the, “Aw, fuck it!” that heralds the chorus, and the hail of feedback and screeching (“Whaddaya doin’, ya fahkin’ stoopid idiot?!”) that brings the track to an end.

In the collective mind of The Libertines, they’re a London band chronicling life in the English capital in the fine tradition of The Kinks and The Clash. Their fictionalised version of ‘Albion’, a London from a bygone age, was an attractive prospect in their salad days, although Doherty frequently pushed the concept too far in his Babyshambles incarnation. Sadly, that unfocused, borderline jingoistic mythologising makes its way into Anthems For Doomed Youth, where Doherty and Barât are Dick Whittington, roaming through an overly-romanticised London.

Whereas Albion used to be a haven and an aspiration, it’s now an outdated prison. The Libertines, and Doherty in particular, can’t escape it. You can imagine him holding court on “the good old days” when British people took their summer holidays in Clacton-on-Sea and Saturday afternoons were all about Stan Bowles marauding down the wing at Loftus Road. Some tracks sound like a vaguely insulting stereotype of a Cockney knees-up that even Del Boy and Rodney would find a bit hackneyed. You’re My Waterloo is a pretty ballad, but Doherty manages to murder it with his tuneless howling, unnecessary references to Tony Hancock, and metaphors to areas of London that are entirely meaningless (“You’re my Waterloo / I’ll be your Gipsy Lane”).

In fact, spotting London place names becomes something akin to a drinking game, and it’s the first port of call when The Libertines are lacking in lyrical inspiration. Poor rappers will pad out rhymes with profanity, and this is The Libertines’ version of that. While an uninspired MC may throw in a “motherfucker” just to balance the flow, The Libertines’ four syllable epithet of choice is more likely to be “Charing Cross Road”. That lack of lyrical inspiration is continued throughout the record, and reaches a nadir on Fame And Fortune, which contains torturous prose about both the Camden Crawl (“To Camden we will crawl”) and signing to Rough Trade (“the trade was rough”) – they won’t be troubling the Ivor Novello committee any time soon.

The longer Anthems For Doomed Youth continues, the less it seems The Libertines can be bothered with their own comeback. The opening triumvirate of songs certainly has energy, but that pace dwindles as the album progresses and when they do try a recapture it later on, it sounds forced. Penultimate song Glasgow Coma Scale Blues attempts to revisit the riot-in-a-biscuit-tin ambience of Up The Bracket, but that ship has long since sailed. That’s not to mention Fury Of Chonburi, which sounds like an inferior, humourless retread of Half Man Half Biscuit’s The Trumpton Riots.

Anthems For Doomed Youth does have its moments. The near-title track (Anthem For Doomed Youth) has a beautiful melody, and hints at the spark that was once there. In addition, some of the choruses have a nous that few other bands can match. However, the main memorable aspect of the album is how it’s utterly ruined by Doherty. His tuneless drawling soon becomes irritating, and at some points it’s as if he’s decided to eschew consonants altogether.

The Libertines have tried to recreate the feeling of their halcyon era but have lost their mojo during their extended hiatus, which means that most of the time, this record sounds like someone playing dialogue from outtakes of Steptoe And Son over a recording of an out-of-tune piano being pushed down an old flight of stairs. An album no-one wanted at the worst possible time that’s even more terrible than expected – The Libertines have not only messed this one up, they may have tarnished their entire legacy irreparably.