By the time Up The Bracket reached the American colonies,
British tabloids had the line on singer Peter Doherty. Be
it occupational hazard or publicity stunt, Doherty has been revealed
as the crack head, junkie, bandmate-burglar that he is. Of course,
the press eats that sort of bread and butter up, especially when
it concerns masterful debuts that pick up where The Jam left
off. It's tricky business as a fan to become attached to a band
with this sort of legend already built in. The worry is that they'll
find Doherty's car on Severen Bridge, or worse he'll make a string
of forgettable acid jazz records. But discretion having never been
the better part of rock and roll, playing aloof with this lot is
easy as finding virginity.
Where 90's troubled Britpress darlings Oasis strove to
be the new Beatles-VW should've named the car after them--
The Libertines smartly take after the more versatile and volatile
Kinks. A combination of Mod-town R&B ("What A
Waster") and Detroit rock'n'soul ("I Get Along")
births some remarkably sticky tunes. Recurring themes of duality
twist a strong cord throughout. Sneering recklessness gives way
to gentle beauty; drunken slobbery interrupts deliberately crisp
syllables; loverly harmonies break down into epileptic seizures.
Drummer Gary Powell won't be lauded as any sort of Keith
Moon, but his driving work is deceptively clever. His militaristic
drum patter on "The Good Old Days" overcomes the best
view of John Hassall's brooding bass. Carl Barat's
embracing guitar lines and Doherty's vocals aren't so married
they mimic each other. Though self reliant, they stack together
with marvelous architecture.
The peak of this alliance is the brilliance of "Horror Show"
in which Doherty throws down the mike in a fit of ultra-violence
inspired by two generations of bowler-wearing droogs. A close
second, "The Boys In The Band" runs through several
fuzz-toned moods before exploding in an irreverent cabaret. Handclaps
weren't Stoogey enough for "Vertigo," authenticity
required cowbell. "Begging" creates tension by taunting
the climax with ebb and flow dynamics. It then scratches its own
itch with short satisfying bursts. When Doherty makes nice on
"Death On The Stairs" and "Tell The King, which
dares to tribute Puff The Magic Dragon, his voice is warm and
rich like a cup of Ian McCulloch cambric. The latter features
stunning acoustic guitar picking and classy, brushed snare motif.
The unlisted track "Mockingbird" follows the same route,
but in a surprisingly competent chicken-pickin' form.
Politics are refreshingly avoided, or hinted at in the context
of a love story. "Did you see the stylish kids in the
riot?/shoveled up like muck and set the night on fire/wombles
bleed/truncheons and shields." Doherty is more concerned
with relationships and social interactions. Often the tale is
entered midstream to leave interpretation open. Plenty of drug
references make the case both for and against consumption. He's
caught the narrative blue-collar drugs and dole bug brought down
by the late Paul Weller. (Well he's as good as dead.) His
lyrics are personal and whispered asides make them more so. Even
slags at his notoriety in the press are indirectly spoken to a
friend. "My words in your mouth are jumbled all about/you're
like a tabloid journalist/the way you cut and paste and twist."
Doherty also has a knack for quotables like, "He knows
there's fewer distressing sights than an Englishman in a baseball
cap." Simple observations like this can speak volumes.
Unlike the new VW beetle, Up The Bracket is perfectly capable
of shifting gears and you'll get a helluva lot more mileage out
of it. The longevity of the band is less sure. But if they showed
moral restraint they couldn't exactly be called The Libertines.
2. Death On The Stairs
3. Horrow Show
4. Time For Heroes
5. Boys In The Band
6. Radio America
7. Up The Bracket
8. Tell The King
9. The Boy Looked At Johnny
11. The Good Old Days
12. I Get Along
13. What A Waster
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