The Libertines - Up the Bracket (20th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews

The Libertines - Up the Bracket (20th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews
The London band’s thrillingly seedy 2002 debut receives a reissue, accompanied by a stack of demos and studio outtakes that illuminate its sprawling, chaotic romance.

The Libertines were one of the most divisive bands of their generation. For some the murky London four-piece was the guitar group of the early 2000s; for others, a shambling imitation of the Strokes whose guttersnipe rock demonstrated how far British guitar music had fallen post Britpop. The Libertines never exactly shied away from the Strokes comparisons, deliberately styling themselves on New York’s finest in an early bid for attention. But a couple of important differences separated the two bands. Most obviously, the Libertines were steeped in the Anglophile tradition of the Jam and the Smiths to the Strokes’ New York punk-isms; just as importantly, the Libertines knew how to jam, letting their musical hair hang loose in a way the Strokes never did.

Both traits are evident on the Libertines’ thrillingly seedy debut, Up the Bracket, which is receiving the 20th-anniversary box set treatment. Alternately hailed as the future of rock and an overly sloppy cut-and-paste of influences upon its 2002 release, Up the Bracket today sounds like a fine record at the intersection of British rock tradition and dark romanticism, from “I Get Along”’s rollicking Clash-scrabble sound to “Tell the King”’s wistful take on Kinks-style ’60s Britpop. “Radio America” resembles the less frenetic, more tender work of the early Beatles (think: “If I Fell” or “And I Love Her”), all acoustic shuffle and girl-band harmonies. The album sounds slightly cleaned up in its remastered form but there remains something endearingly shaggy about Up the Bracket, as if the Libertines were too excited about being in the studio with the actual Mick Jones to bother with finesse.

On a psychological level, too, Up the Bracket is fascinating, with the early Libertines coming as close as any band has ever got to representing the id and the superego in music. Dual frontmen and songwriters Carl Barât and Peter Doherty were so close, musically and physically, that they felt like two parts of one troubled soul, their voices like those of a disjoined personality violently at war with itself (see the “So baby please kill me/Oh baby don’t kill me” couplet from “Death on the Stairs”). For all its garage swagger, Up the Bracket played like a musical psychodrama, driven by buzzsaw guitars and Gary Powell’s muscular drum lines.

The box set’s extra tracks—the super-deluxe edition has 65 previously unreleased recordings, including demos, radio sessions, and live recordings, as well as contemporary B-sides—prove intermittently fascinating. The live tracks, nine songs recorded at London’s 100 Club, plus recordings from the ICA, Nottingham Rock City, and Paris’ Divan du Monde, are fun but inessential, given that Up the Bracket largely succeeded in capturing the band’s live energy. It is great to have “What a Waster,” the band’s splendidly snarky debut single, included alongside Up the Bracket, albeit in studio outtake and live form; and the demo “All at Sea (Misty)” has a wobbly legged swoon that could have soothed some of the album’s jittery edges. On the other hand, no one really needs two early takes of a song as basic as “Horrorshow.”

The real interest lies in the studio outtakes, many of which have never seen the light of day—or never officially, given Libertines fans’ predilections during the early days of file-sharing. “7 Deadly Sins” (which appears twice on the box set, once as a demo released as the B-side of “Time for Heroes” and once as a studio outtake) and “Sweets - Take 4” show a dreamy, jazzy, and surprisingly lovable side to the band, one that owes more to Django Reinhardt than the Jam. The demo version of “Plan A” has the mesmeric, rather sinister feel of a film score, with prominent bass and skeletal guitar situating it somewhere between the Clash’s dub excursions and a Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album track. “Mockingbird - Take 6” doubles down on the band’s folky ways, with brushed drums, flying acoustic guitar flourishes, and what sounds like a double bass; it could easily date from the British skiffle boom of the 1950s.

Like London itself, the Libertines of Up the Bracket are sprawling, dirty, romantic, somewhat indiscriminate, and full of chaotic life. This impression is reinforced by “Don’t Talk to Me,” a song freshly unearthed for this box set, which they appear to basically make up on the spot, probing their way through two minutes of endearingly shambling lo-fi pop à la early Pavement. Those accustomed to seeing Doherty through the prism of tabloid fame, drugs, and reliably terrible Babyshambles singles may be surprised by the fresh-faced balladeer who sings on “Breck Road Lover,” a winsome and sweetly nostalgic song said to be one of the band’s earliest. The Libertines themselves—and Doherty in particular—are hardly blameless in the band’s descent into rock’n’roll caricature, becoming better known for misbehavior than musical ability before their troubled (but occasionally inspired) second album in 2004. Up the Bracket remains their high-water mark, and this box set gives enough context to understand the original album’s motley musical inspiration, bohemian spirit, and anarchic ethos.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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The Libertines - Up the Bracket (20th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews The Libertines - Up the Bracket (20th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on October 29, 2022 Rating: 5


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