Bands reuniting after a gap of 11 years seldom produce something satisfying so it’s pleasing that The Libertines third album, Anthems For Doomed Youth contains many traces of what made the band so thrilling first time round. For me, The Libertines are a band who work best in bursts of spectacular song such as, well any of their singles from the first two albums, as opposed to over the length of an album itself. For all that Up The Bracket and The Libertines contained some of the most thrilling songs heard in many a year, the albums did tend to drag over the piece and usually felt a song or two too long. This album suffers from that too, it must be said, but there’s enough here to satisfy die hard Libertines fans and to pique the interest of newcomers.
Recorded in Thailand under the supervision of Ed Sheeran’s producer Jake Gosling, Anthems For Doomed Youth covers familiar Libertines territory, regular harking back to dark romantic notions of London maps and legends. It does seem more polished than the band’s previous two albums however, with Gosling reigning in the band’s natural exuberance in a way that you don’t feel former producer Mick Jones would have. Age and all the various trials and tribulations the band, especially Barat and Doherty, have been through in the last decade or so will no doubt have dulled the edges too. The opening pair of tracks highlight these issues: both Barbarians and Gunga Din are decent tracks but they lack a punch missing from say Can’t Stand Me Now to use an obvious example. Both songs suffer from fairly mundane verses but are saved by great rabble rousing choruses that remind you what made The Libertines such a thrill in the first place. It’s only on third track, the superb Fame And Fortune, that the ramshackle feel of The Libertines of old kicks in. With the fog of the openers lifted, this London referencing, punchy track is the album’s first real highpoint.
There are two other tracks that stand out above the rest and both are up there with the band’s best work. The piano led You’re My Waterloo is a regret laden love song sung quite beautifully by Pete Doherty. I must confess to not being the biggest fan of his voice, but this song really is a special one. Glasgow Coma Scale Blues is the other standout track, a simply fantastic riot of a song filled with sleazy guitars, dirty vocals and a chorus that is frankly irresistible. If you are going to listen to one track as a sample from the record make it this one – it’s outstanding.
There are plenty of other moments where the band show they still have the ability to craft songs with their unique balance of wistfulness for an unspecified time and place in the past and music that could start a riot. The Milkman’s Horse, whilst almost too much of a Libertines like title, is a splendid thing, with yet another crowd pleasing chorus (“What you done/Get out of my dreams you scum”) and Fury of Chonburi, a track inspired by the Thai province the album was recorded in, is another explosion of guitars and vocals that would rouse even the most timid gig goer. For every one of those tracks however, you get a song that’s a bit too Libertines by numbers, such as the disappointing Heart Of The Matter or just a bit too stuck in second gear like the album openers and that’s what stops this album a good one rather than an excellent one.
Perhaps the album’s sequencing could have been thought through a bit more – opening with Fury Of Chonburi or even Belly Of The Beast would have perhaps been bolder and offered more of a statement of intent – or perhaps a couple of tracks could have been jettisoned. For whatever reason, Anthems For Doomed Youth is full of potential but never fully unlocked, in a way, much like the band themselves. When they, and this album, are on form, they are outstanding – when they’re not, they sound like the fire that ignited them at first has dimmed.