Living with…The Libertines…for a week

Pete Doherty by kk+ (flickr)

Up the Bracket – The Libertines (2002)

“if Oasis is the sound of a council estate singing its heart out, then the Libertines sounded like someone just put in the rubbish chute at the back of the estate, trying to work out what day it is”  said Pete Doherty about his own band.

Probably like many people, I  knew that  Pete Doherty more for the drug and drink-fuelled stories.  For being Kate Moss’s boyfriend and leading the girl from Croydon astray.  For being the tut-tut figure of the Daily Mail whenever the subject of those naughty boys of rock n roll arises.  I hadn’t gone much out of my way for his music.  And then you discover that loads of respected critics out there think this is pretty good and so I have given the Libertines a try this week.

Brought up on  a solid diet of the Jam, the Clash, the Smiths and the Undertones you can instantly see their heritage.  Brought up on a  further diet of Carry On films particularly the filthy Sid James laugh, and classic BBC radio comedy you can see where their humour comes from.

And it would be easy to dismiss it all as just a re-hash of what’s gone before, but actually rather like a Carry On film Up the Bracket is just a good old fashioned light-hearted romp.  It’s bawdy and has the subtlety of a brick wrapped up in Christmas paper.  As familiar as a camp doctor cooing over a rather large matron this is a cheeky chanted chorus over a thrashy edgy guitar.

In the same way as classic radio’s Tony Hancock or Julian and Sandy would mess with words to hide meaning from those not in the know, so does Pete and the boys.

“Up the Bracket”? A punch in the throat?  Or snorting cocaime?

“Wombles bleed truncheons and shields” Just plain useless? Street protestors? Or just a nickname for the police?

“Oh hurry up Mrs Brown”  Someone’s mum? Or a stash of cannabis?

“He did it with his hat on”  Just as it says?  Or maybe with a condom on?

So I’d say the Libertines were a little more than ‘ the rubbish chute at the back of the estate’.  Their music is a lot better than that!  It rips and roars and cusses over a backdrop of coarse poetry – but poetry it is nonetheless.  At times it works very well.  Death on the Stairs, Time for Heroes are great numbers but my favourite on the album is the good old thrash that is The Boy Looked  at Johnny.

And overall, my favourite Libertines track though comes from their second album and is called, What Katie did. It can have nothing to do with his fated relationship with Katie Moss (they hadn’t met yet)  but it’s a wonderfully whimsical bit of  melody.  As is the video below.  And that’s not a word often used about the Libertines.  Whimsical.