Given the unfolding and increasingly tragic saga of The Libertines, it’s a miracle this record even exists, let alone has any artistic worth. For, in the two years since their extraordinary debut album (2002’s Up The Bracket), the story of this erratic but enthralling group has taken in serious drug addiction, a prison sentence and?during the making of this record alone?three failed attempts to get frontman Pete Doherty through rehab. Indeed, on the eve of release, Doherty has temporarily been removed from the Libertines line-up.
The second Libertines album is all about this. It’s an unflinching, vicarious and occasionally romanticised portrait of the tempestuous relationship between Doherty and Carlos Barat, the other half of The Libertines’songwriting axis. And, as such, it’s by turns confused, heartbreaking and thrilling.
All of which would mean nothing if the songwriting wasn’t of such a remarkably high standard. The Libertines’first album placed Doherty and Barat in a defiantly British lineage, taking over from where The Kinks, The Clash and The Jam left off, and that’s a tradition they lovingly continue to exploit here.
More than that, though, The Libertines is a record of such raw autobiographical honesty that it carries a weight few others in 2004 can match. The group’s manager, Alan McGee, has often said he thinks it’s the record that can make the band as big as The Clash. Whether that’s true or not (and given Doherty’s chaotic behaviour, it seems unlikely), it certainly confirms The Libertines as Britain’s most culturally important group, albeit a very different one from those that have gone before them. Whereas the landmark British records of the ’90s (Parklife, Definitely Maybe, OK Computer) were made by artists who were self-consciously striving for greatness, The Libertines have reached this summit by a more accidental route. This is not a self-appointed great record. Like Tracey Emin, The Libertines have arrived at a point where their lives are their art, and their art is their lives.
That they’ve got this far remains a marvel in itself. They emerged as part of the class of 2002, a British counterpoint to the so-called New Rock Revolution of The Strokes, The White Stripes and The Hives. On top of their adrenalised music, they offered a back story too good to ignore. Since 1996, various incarnations of the band had been part of a boho scene centred around Filthy McNasty’s Whiskey Caf