Album Review: The Libertines, ‘Anthems for Doomed Youth’
Ten years is a long time to spend apart from any relationship and rare is the relationship whose participants can pick up where they left off as if no time went by at all. Of course, British quartet the Libertines opted for the better-to-burn-out philosophy when they ceased making new music after their 2004 sophomore album. (This was not so much by design as much as by just falling into disarray, but that's a well-documented story.)
So what has 10 years done to the Libertines' sound? As an answer, the leisurely jangle of the title track speaks volumes: not surprisingly, the Libertines certainly less urgent, less harried and, well... less of a mess than before. You could say the band sounds more mature, but that's a relative term. You could say that the Libertines' first two albums race along at a pace not unlike someone with shoes untied and stuff falling out of their pockets sprinting to get to the bus stop to cash a paycheck. Anthems for Doomed Youth, however, just strolls along -- again, with shoes untied and maybe shirt untucked, but with the cool reserve of a person who oozes a vibe of "not a single f--k given here."
Which is not to say that the new music lacks passion. Or that the band hasn't benefitted from the time off. The Libertines 2.0 still sound shambolic, but tighter and more flexible than before. And legions of generic pop-punk bands could stand to learn a thing or two from the Libertines on how to make ska-infused punk sound this convincing. Meanwhile, pop producer Jake Gosling (One Direction, Lady Gaga) brings noticeably shinier production. The album's sumptuous trails of reverb will no doubt make some longtime fans recoil but actually do nothing to water-down the substance of the music and, in fact, highlight the band's newfound sense of ease. On portions of Anthems for Doomed Youth, The Libertines sound like a cabaret lounge act. And if you're already a fan, how much you like this album hinges on how willing you are to accept how the band has aged, perhaps best exemplified by this verse from the gentle, piano-drive "You're My Waterloo," which sees co-frontman Pete Doherty doing his best take on Elvis Costello: “You’ll never fumigate the demons / no matter how much you smoke / Just say you love me for three good reasons / and I’ll throw you the rope.”
The Libertines have finally thrown their long-waiting fans a rope by getting back together. And the sullied wisdom of their much-publicized rock-and-roll shenanigans would come off as hollow and sad if the band weren't laughing at itself a little. These days, after much wear and tear, Doherty and his love/hate partner in crime Carl Barât come off as the types of likable louts who are appreciated in their neighborhood for telling colorful stories that make passersby laugh and blush at the same time. That said, the band's sense of adventure and willingness to add considerable dimension to their sound is laudable regardless of how it hits with your own personal tastes.