Album Review: The Libertines // All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade

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How will a band that has famously, with great success, mined the drama of their personal lives to inspire the subject matter of their songs now cope if everyone is fit, well and drama-free? Have all the stories been told?

There are no arrests, tabloid love affairs or hard drugs. It certainly is quiet on the Eastern Esplanade, where the Albion Rooms hotel is located. The hotel is owned by the Libertines and features a recording studio where, yes you guessed it, this record was recorded. We find Carl Barat (vocals and guitar), Pete Doherty (vocals and guitar), John Hassell (bass) and Gary Powell (drums) in good health and fortune, their UK tour has sold out, and new dates have just been added. 

Photo credits: Ed Cooke

On my first listen I wasn’t convinced with ‘Run Run Run’. It felt like an AI attempt at a Libertines track complete with literary references and a clunky child-like lyrical chorus. Although it was underwhelming as a lead single the song has grown on me through repeated plays. “Cause tonight we are gonna spend / all tomorrow’s happiness” is a clever line delivered by Carl in typical wit. The song deals with running from the past, and it’s clear the Libertines want some distance from their former selves. 

‘Mustang’ swings, with layers of vocals and a lush female-sung chorus. Carl playfully sings the verses before spitting the final lines over a glorious outro. The song details a character called Tracy dreaming her mundane life away. Pigman is Carl’s nickname for Pete, and this comedic description of him in the chorus paints him in an unflattering light “And ‘ere’s Pigman in a lowrider / smoking rollies in the sunset / unholy from the road, / he guzzles up the rider / he’s like Pacman when he goes”.

‘Have A Friend’ is a classic Libertines track with a modern twist, The song drives forward with the catchy bass drum and a tidy chord progression in the verse which breakouts into the slower chorus.  The song is in a more sombre mood with Pete singing about bombs falling in a reference to the war in Ukraine. 

The album is topical, covering current affairs, such as immigrants’ impression of ‘Merry Old England’. The song suggests that they might yet regret their decision to come. Whilst previous records have covered subjects very close to Pete and Carl’s hearts, and often felt like a soundtrack to their private therapy sessions, the scope for the subject matter is much broader on this, their fourth album. The band are unshakeably English, and the record is littered with references and words in the mother tongue. The chorus has string sections, bongo drums and a female backing vocal. It is produced so cleanly, that I had to double-check it actually was the Libertines, so far removed it was, rather ironically considering the lyrical content. 

The Libertines have been on a real journey with their debut ‘Up The Bracket’ (2002) all vibrant energy and highly charged in all senses of the word, the sequel ‘The Libertines’ (2004) the fallout from all the excess and parties, and ‘Anthems for Doomed Youth’ (2015) the recovery album. This album, their fourth, finds the band in a more peaceful place, reflected somewhat in the sound which is generally cleaner produced albeit with cackles and studio chatter still heard. The feeling that comes across is contentment rather than the darker vibes of earlier albums.

The album pace slows with the smooth ‘Man With The Melody’ with accompanying piano, penned by John Hassell. The song feels Dickensian with a Fagin-type character, slumming around portrayed by John, Pete and Carl, as a first for The Libertines, the vocals are shared between all three. 

The opening riff of ‘Oh Shit’ evokes ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ albeit the guitar parts are cleaner and the driving drum and bass propel it forward. The song details a cast of questionable characters, a recurring theme for the album. The thrashing guitar fill mid-way through is pure Sex Pistols, which briefly raises the tempo. The album does suffer from pacing around the middle, where it feels a little pedestrian. 

The devil and charm have often been found in the frayed edges of the Libertines songs, the point where the song may either completely collapse or soar to a euphoric ending. Some of that anarchy has been cleaned up on this album, and it suffers, in places, from the lack of chaotic energy. Conversely, you can’t expect these forty-year-olds to be teetering around the stage as they did in their early twenties, and it should be applauded that the band has lasted this long and is still producing records. A lot of the disorder in the music appeared to have reflected the disarray and shambles that was their everyday existence, now the band is more mature, and their sound has developed accordingly. The Libertines are comfortably entering legend status and rather than bursting through the doors in a crumpled heap, they are swaggering in, cracking jokes and confidently smiling. 

‘Night of the Hunter’ is one of the strongest songs of the pack. The strings are laid over a familiar guitar motif of ‘Swan Lake’ and a theremin player adds layers creating an interestingly dark atmosphere in keeping with the song’s moody and dangerous vibe. The title and lyric content reference the film of the same name but there is no redemption for this character “Oh you’ve got to know as you wash the blood out of your clothes / you can clean your clothes but you’ll never clean your soul”. There is so much going on that a Damon Albarn sample from ‘This is a Low’ slipped into the middle and almost went unnoticed.   

The duet between Pete and Carl is particularly endearing and a highlight. Recording the album in their studio was a masterstroke, as the band are found to be relaxed, and in high spirits and to my ear, this is some of the finest vocal takes both singers have committed to tape. The sound of the album is lighter and tension-free when compared to their previous offerings. 

The band are generally no longer paying the cab fare over to trouble other than on ‘Be Young’ where “It’s to hell in a handcart, we’ll meet you there”. The song is a celebration of youth, and it brings back the high energy of their earlier albums, as the band blow the cobwebs off. The song has a ska section which compliments the song’s composition. The lyrics cover the wild abandonment of youth and “There no wandering away from total and utter annihilation” is spoken like a proper nihilistic teenager. It is a welcome shot in the arm and has the hallmarks of a potential live favourite. 

Talking of Mr Albarn ‘Songs They Never Play On The Radio’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blur album. It’s a superbly crafted song, one that Pete has been working on since 2006, which has finally been committed to record. Pete has always been a talented lyricist painting wonderful images and his creative writing on this, the album’s jewel in the crown, is up there with his finest. Pete and Carl share vocal duties and sign off the album in style leaving the listener wanting more. 

“Crashing down the boulevard of broken dreams / men of my class we live too fast / and we can’t be arsed / and we batten down the hatches.”

The good ship Albion has sailed through some heavy storms, and choppy waves and survived. Just. Now the weather is calmer, the ship is anchored and this band of merry men are on dry land with the sun on their faces whilst celebrating over open barrels of rum. The dark days are over, rejoice in the spring sun with The Libertines!

Words by Dave Holgado


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