The Libertines – what a band. From the constantly on a knifes edge lifestyle of the members, to the forever on a fine line between love and hate relationship between Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, this helped create some of the best and most influential music of the noughties, most notable on debut album Up the Bracket.
Looking back on this album now can sometimes almost bring a tear to my eye. The First time I listened to it I knew it was something special; its rawness, its energy, its passion and its pain. It’s only so often an album like this comes along, almost making you feel part of the gang as you listen.
It wasn’t just the music when it came to The Libertines. It was also how close fans could get to the band and actually feel part of what was going on at the time. They kicked off the reinvention of the ‘guerrilla gig’; last minute gigs to a small audience wherever they could play. I remember news coming out of them organising one on the London underground, and I myself attended what can be more described as a ‘get together’, upstairs in the Camden Barfly to a hundred or so people who found a secret message about the gig a couple of hours beforehand from an online message board. This was all at a time when they were headlining huge venues, so it made it even more special knowing they were doing this for the sheer fun of it and becoming one with their fans.
And that’s what you can feel throughout Up the Bracket. That sense of togetherness and ramshackle, sticking your fingers up to everything else and getting lost in being part of the band, even if you couldn’t even play an instrument or sing.
Like many musicians it was quite obvious drugs played a part in their lives and in their music. And again like many musicians, this helped and hindered in the creation process. Up the Bracket can be said to have benefited from their lifestyle, whereas their second (and last) self-titled record was the beginning of the end with the implosion of the band and Pete being kicked out after fights, arguments, prison sentences and actually robbing fellow band member Carl’s house.
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Seeing them live was a gamble; when they were on form they were on form and you’d have a night you’d never forget, and when they were a mess, they were an absolute state – still managing to create a memorable show, be it not always for the right reasons.
Anyway, I digress from the main point, which is the album Up the Bracket (it’s hard not to with all the rock ‘n’ roll drama!) This was released at a time when the band was happy and having the time of their lives, and it shows in the music. The fuzzy riff and fast-paced vibrancy of opening track Vertigo straight away has you hooked and wanting more, followed by arguably the best track on the album, Death on the stairs. Pete and Carl take a verse each creating a song where you can almost see the love and passion for the music, for the band, and for each other.
Add on top of this a penchant for poetic lyrics, painting clear and vibrant images with a perfect mix of metaphor and maliciousness. Often the lyrics have a nod towards either the shadowy London of today, noticeable on tracks like Horrorshow, or a gleefull look back in time to a Dickensian tinged past such as on Radio America. These are no simple lyrics, these are meaningful, fluid and clever, “You’re like a journalist, how you cut and paste and twist’ sings Pete on Tell the King.
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The album has a live, rough feel about it that does its best to make you feel like you’re there and part of it without sounding like a live album, a testament to the skills of ex-Clash founder Mick Jones. From the strained scream at the beginning of album named track Up the Bracket, to the high pace blur of The Boy Looked at Johnny, the songs make you want to keep on listening long after the record’s finished, much like a good night out on the town with your mates.
The band atmosphere can be felt most of all in the last track, I Get Along – a song that makes you want to lose all ability to function correctly, and is so effortlessly cool it’s ridiculous. With raucous vocals from Carl and even louder and fuzzier guitars than the rest of the record, it’s the album closer of a generation.
Up the Bracket is special because it kicked off a whole scene in Britain. It dragged the music industry along with it, kicking and screaming and helped put energy back into a stale music scene,bringing poetry back into a new punk sound. The Libertines were a band that could implode at any minute and this could be seen in the music, with Up the Bracket being the full encompassment of this passion and pleasure. As The Libertines themselves would no doubt say, may the good ship Albion forever sail on.