Published Sep 10, 2015In 2004, after a barely-made-it-out self-titled album, the Libertines imploded at the height of their exciting but unpredictable rise. In 2015, the Libertines are keenly aware of their standing in the music world and the sense of importance and cult-like status that's attached itself to the UK four-piece since they disbanded more than a decade ago. Old feuds, drug habits and side projects have been kicked to the side for the time being, and the older, wiser and cleaner Libertines know they have a lot to prove with their third full-length, Anthems for Doomed Youth — and while they may not exactly capture the magic that made the previous two records near-instant classics, they sound damn well determined to give it a go.
The album opens with "Barbarians," serving as a spirited declaration of the band's return and featuring immediate and memorable shout-along lines like "The world's fucked but it won't get me down." It's followed by debauched rock'n'roll tales of men who have learned their fair share of lessons in the last ten years ("Gunga Din," "Fame and Fortune") and attempts at recapturing the romantic utopian ideals of Arcadia ("Anthem for Doomed Youth").
And while wild man Pete Doherty may have finally pulled his shit together, it thankfully doesn't sound like it; his endearingly shambolic approach to songs remains intact, ever anchored by the sleeker, more calculated style of co-frontman Carl Barât. Their partnership has undoubtedly taken a beating over the years, but shines through in all of its glory on early highlight "Heart of the Matter." Whereas songs like The Libertines bookends "Can't Stand Me Now" and "What Became of the Likely Lads" painted a portrait of decaying friendship, Anthems for Doomed Youth plays out like half-complete couples therapy (sometimes literally, as Barât snarls on "Belly of the Beast" with affected bravado: "Staring up at my therapist, he says pound for pound, blow for blow / You're the most messed up motherfucker I know.")
Already familiar to obsessive fans, "You're My Waterloo" was one of the band's earliest recorded and most beloved demo tracks, and here it gets treated to pretty piano, glossy electric guitar and proper string arrangements; it's a much flashier rendition than its nearly two decade-old predecessor, but one that proves that Doherty's still capable of breaking hearts with his earnest, emotional and raw ballads. True to form for the punk-tinged poets, though, it's immediately countered with "Fury of Chonburi," which delivers an onslaught of louder, more distorted guitars, in-studio banter and shout-along chants of the track's Thailand-inspired title.
If there are a couple of throwaways on the record, they'd be the meandering, unfinished-sounding "Iceman" (though the lyrics are as pretty, romantic and revealing as ever, the attempt at recording the track from a beach can be chalked up as a failure) and the overly cleaned-up "The Milkman's Horse," which scrubs away any traces of the Libertines' gritty spark.
"Glasgow Coma Scale Blues" offers up a final blast of raucous ramshackle indie rock that hits closer to Up the Bracket-era Libs than anything they've done since. They end on the haunting "Dead for Love," on which Doherty gets to showcase his penchant for poetic heartbreakers one last time, while Barât gets a final word in with a couple of gruffly sentimental verses of his own.
Not every song on the record lives up to the anthemic nature promised in the title, but there are certainly moments of triumphant redemption and plenty of nostalgic nods to fulfill fans' understandably high expectations. Given that anyone with an ounce of sense assumed that the band had burned out in a disastrous blaze years ago, Anthems for Doomed Youth is nothing short of a miracle. (Virgin/Universal)