Looking back at The Libertines’ classic ‘Up The Bracket’
All my life I have wanted to write a review of The Libertines premiere album Up The Bracket not purely for its chaotic poetry or blood bond ethics but the way it shaped not only mine but so many other people’s life.
In 2000 the rock ‘n’ roll scene was dead but for a shining light from over the Atlantic in the form of New York’s uber-cool band The Strokes. Made up of the sons of film producers and models, all as clean as the lines they shoved up their nose. The Libertines were our answer to The Strokes, our Lord Byron to their Hemmingway.
Up the Bracket came out amidst a furore of rap metal and under the shadow of Britpop which had sold its soul to the devil when Noel Gallagher posed like a mug with Tony Blair and claimed Cool Britannia. Its sense of disregard for the economic boom was all summed up by The Libertines and their leading front men—and best friends—Carl Barat and Peter Doherty, who used poetic justice as a reason to explore the exponential wisdom of destroying yourself.
‘Vertigo’takes the heart of the new Millenium and turns it into a fury of bouncing guitar, rolling drums and slurring harmonies as Doherty and Barat sing about the slums of seedy London. Then, ‘Death on the Stairs’ with its hooky lead provided by Barat and the meandering, gin palace lyrics, continue to scream of a life where little matters but love, drugs and living for now.
“Oh please kill me, oh no don’t kill me. Don’t go on about yesterday, you know I wouldn’t know about that anyway” – Death on the Stairs
The next track on the album, ‘Horrorshow’,is about as close to punk as Britain has got since Joe Strummer and his mates retired to their beds. Full of screaming vocals and music hall camaraderie where tomorrow is feared and self-deprecation is the name of the game. Its ethics are not better seen than in this live footage from The Rhythm Factory a favourite haunt of all Libertines.
This was the band’s ethos; they provided the entertainment and that was all. They were not heroes or icons but people like you and me. The band demanded only one thing, loyalty (often in the form of Libertine tattoos) but in return, you were treated to an act where sweat was burned and blood was literally spilt.
‘Time For Heroes’, which later became the title of the band’s greatest hits album, is a song which perfectly describes the band. Written about Doherty’s involvement in the poll tax riots where he was bludgeoned by an officer after checking his hair in a riot shield the band dip and peak to a Clash infused Beatles skiffle. Britishness at its musical best.
This is something the band were desperate to pursue. A sense of identity in a rapidly changing world the band decided to revert back to the Gin Riots of the 19th Century and fight for ‘Good Ship Albion’. Albion, an old word for England, became the band’s trademark (later featuring as one of Doherty’s most revered songs with his band Babyshambles) because of their now infamous guerilla gigs. This was a scenario in where Doherty and Barat would play ramshackle sets in their own home for a minimal fee which was usually used to fuel the after party—but in doing so created a loyal army of adoring fans willing to fend off all invaders, including the police.
As the album continues this sense of disorder and heroin based poetry continues as the band intend to explore the depths of modern Britain as hits like ‘Radio America’and ‘Boys in the Band’fly by.
The title track ‘Up the Bracket’rears its ugly head just over halfway through the record. The song deserves its accreditation as its punk ethos is displayed in the opening seconds with Doherty’s indistinguishable gargling makes way for crashing riffs and flowing rhythm. We see in the video the band’s love of British comedy (Tony Hancock in particular) as they lark around with each other with a Beatlesque slapstick.
The LP continues to deliver this souped-up skiffle in all it’s unashamed, reckless glory and as ‘The Good Old Days’ bassline kicks in Doherty and Barat yet again demand our loyalty and patriotism with their lyrics so full of imagery and their instrumentals brimming with nostalgia.
“If you’ve lost your faith and love in music the end won’t be long”
‘I Get Along’is the finale. And my, what a finale! Gathering up all the energy of a pit bull on speed and stamping as hard as a brogue will allow the opening riff is as thundering as Thor himself. This incendiary song is designed to fuel the fire of hedonism and rouse the hearts and minds of thugs and poets alike.
In essence, Up the Bracket is perfectly described by the aforementioned mug of 10 Downing Street, Noel Gallagher, when he said: “People said Oasis was the sound of the council estate singing its heart out. The Libertines are the poet behind the estate’s dustbin.” This sense of chaotic hedonism and driving declarations of war against the modern world completed by brilliant musicianship and socially scything lyrics all entrenched in a deep Britishness, are what sets this album apart from anything at the time and leaves it standing alone, still.