libertines.org presents Up The Bracket
October 2002. ‘I Get Along’. ‘Time For Heroes’. Pete & Carl. The revival of British Rock. An answer to The Strokes. Ten years have passed since The Libertines’ debut LP Up The Bracket and the world of music is a very different place. Such was their impact, both within music and externally, that it seems cliché and dull to talk about the squalor and the glory, the romance and the hedonism now. Indeed, mention The Libertines and you’re more likely to hear illicit tales of Doherty, Moss, drugs and bust-ups than you are to hear about the music these days. Such was the media whirlwind which surrounded the band, and so ingrained is the level of musical influence they had – no-one seems to talk of the poeticism, the intensity and brotherhood that so many have tried to emulate since, since this has become par for the course, an inherent staple of independent British rock.
The cult of The Libertines still exists of course. Fans hark at reunion rumours and news of new material. So it’s slightly surprising that more has not been made of this year’s milestone date. One form of homage has been libertines.org, a recognised forum, compiling their tribute to Up The Bracket; members’ bands have recorded and contributed one song each.
Unfortunately the work goes nowhere near replicating the joy and beauty of Up The Bracket. I do not wish to be too critical; it’s a tall order to replicate such a seminal work. But libertines.org’s effort if inconsistent at best.
It begins pleasingly. ‘Vertigo’ is a thin, brave vocal piece, far removed from its original. Sounding more like Moby than Barât, it implies the tribute will be a departure from the energetic, battling guitars expected. The messiness remains, perhaps unintentionally due to several missed notes, and the a capella performance focuses the listener on the pressing, evocative lyrics. But rather than preparing you for a radical, new take on the classic LP, ‘Vertigo’ is a red herring, book-ending some acoustic ramblings and garage-band misdemeanours.
‘Death On The Stairs’ is a microcosm of the album’s problems. The hooks and energy are there, whilst the vocal timbre is different enough to detach it from the original. Guitars are replaced with pianos, offering a more intimate sound. But the vocals lack the passion and force that made Up The Bracket’s second track a cult favourite. I found myself singing along, but that says more about the power of the original than the achievements of the cover.
Few of the tracks fared much better. ‘Time For Heroes’, the ultimate Libertine-anthem for many, full of romance and promise, poetry and resonance, is a ham-faced shambles of a rendition. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it performed in a bed sit by a bunch of red-faced heathens returned from a night on the tiles – indeed the boys themselves must have done this – but these punters lack the talent of their heroes; they’re in a musical class of their own, my love, but it’s the wrong one. ‘Boys in the Band’ is even worse. John Hassall’s brief, worthy moment of distinction is dismissed as his bass lines are forgotten, never replicated or even alluded to. The vocals are lazy and arrogant – you could level criticism at Doherty for performing drunk and out of tune, but at least he wrote these songs and delivered them in his own style; this attempt emphasises his weaknesses instead of celebrating them. ‘Horrorshow’ is just awful. Whilst a brave attempt was made to put a dance spin on the track, the production (or lack of) is appalling, sounding like it was knocked up in a few minutes on free Mac software, and the finished product sounds thoughtless and impulsive.
Some face is saved by ‘I Get Along’. Reminiscent of Girl Talk, this Nightrider-style mash-up begins promisingly. Like ‘Vertigo’, an alternative interpretation of a song is proffered. The levels are not managed particularly well, and the song’s (maybe even the band’s) defining moment, “I get along just singing my song, people tell me I’m wrong…fuck ‘em”, is understated to the point of ignorance. But it’s nice to hear some passion and thought, to be roused from the slumber of rattle-tattle acoustic workmanship. ‘Radio America’ is also well worth a listen; a more structured, precise version has been created, utilizing the fantastic bare bones of the original and adding a country-edge. This version is cleaner than its predecessor and demonstrates the beauty and strength the song holds in its most stripped-back, initial form, whilst adding its own considered spin.
So overall not a great listen. But libertines.org does serve a purpose. The fact that I sat through the whole thing, never skipping ahead, is testament to the strength of the original songs, whilst the fact that none are bettered speaks of their inherent quality. Some lines of lyricism stood out where they usually don’t, enabling you to celebrate Barât and Doherty’s talents. It’s clear to see the impact The Libertines have had on the contributors, which is praise in itself, and a minority of performers have taken some risks. But the album’s most important quality is that it reminds you how good Up The Bracket is. This particular celebration was unsuccessful, but the point is that a celebration is deserved.