No one can hold a light to your misery
You’re the number one
Being hard done
Hard done by
You’ll get by with your smile
Wicked smile and laughing at the misfortune of others
You gotta get your kicks
Kicking the pricks
Laughing as they pick up sticks
And old ladies walks on by
Trip up as they glide
With all the battering it’s taken
I’m surprised it’s still ticking (x2)
Let’s get straight to the heart of the matter
So glum, it’s all on a platter
So what’s the matter, what’s the matter today?
I am no stranger to the coals
I carry them in my soul
They scorch my flesh and leave great holes
In the meaning of my life
But I get by, I get by
Just as crooked little smile
You’ll get by, you’ll get by
So hold a light to my misery
But don’t send it up in flames
It’s only I who take the blame
But try me anyway
And you’ll get by you’ll get by
With your wicked little smile
You’ll get by, you’ll get by with your wicked little
I haven’t bought the new Libertines album. This may come as a shock. Or, perhaps not. More than likely you haven’t thought of it at all. To be completely honest, I didn’t expect you to. Really, I’m not that shocked about it, either. But a younger version of me might be quite distressed by this whole scenario.
Once upon a time, you see, the Libertines were my favourite band. To that younger version of me, not buying this album immediately upon its release would quite literally be the act of an insane person. The band broke up more than 10 years ago. The front men, Carl Barât and Pete Doherty, stopped speaking to one another entirely for at least two years. To a Libertines fan, it’s shocking that the band’s gotten back together at all, let alone so many years later. This new album, Anthems for Doomed Youth, is the album that was hoped for, but never expected.
Of course, the thing about the Libertines is that every piece of music they managed to record after 2003 is something of a miracle. Their second album was never supposed to happen, either, and the band’s reunion to record it was short-lived. They broke up before the second single came out.
As I write this, I’m realizing I still have an encyclopedic knowledge of everything that was ever reported on them. And actually, it’s because of that fact that I won’t get into the particulars of how and why they kept breaking up. Because when you start talking about the escapades and drama of a band, and especially this band, the music gets lost for the mythology. The Libertines were as much legend as band.
I was interested in the band before I’d even heard their music. I read an article by one of my favourite reviewers that referenced them after they’d broken up. That very young and romantic version of myself fell in love with this group of fellows who’d nearly killed themselves a hundred times before they’d hit 25.
As luck would have it, I also liked their music. So that was OK, then. But I’m not going to pretend it was all about the songs. It was about this idea of who these people were.
It wasn’t just me. All of the music press and a good chunk of music fandom was taken with the breakups and the reunions and the breakups and the reunions and the final breakup that has now turned out not to be final.
Barât and Doherty both formed new bands (Dirty Pretty Things and Babyshambles, respectively) quickly after, and put out albums that were received better than they probably should have been. Both DPT and Babyshambles eventually put out some pretty good albums, but by that point the drama of it all had died down, and neither sophomore effort did particularly well. Then they all kind of dropped off the public for five years, and now, there’s a reunion.
The trouble is, I’m not interested in the drama, anymore, and now in their late 30s and early 40s, it seems the band’s not as interested, either. The video for the second single, Heart of the Matter, presents a peep show of Barât and Doherty forcing drugs and whiskey on a person tied up in front of them while fans put in coins to watch them. At the end of the song, it’s revealed that they were torturing dummy versions of themselves with their own vices while the viewers slowly lost interest.
It’s been hailed as their most honest and brave statement yet, and the video matches the lyrics of the song, which are in turns self-pitying and cynical. But the irony is that the video is so graphic that I didn’t listen to the song at all when I watched it. I’ve watched it a few times, now, and I can’t manage to separate what the song sounds like from the graphic image of Barât beating himself across the face (a nod to the time in 2003 he drunkenly attempted suicide by smashing his face into a sink). And so it’s drama instead of music once again, albeit from an older and more self-aware group of people. It feels as if there’s a lot of spectacle in the world when there’s supposed to be substance, and I might not be romantic enough anymore to be OK with that.
So I’m not sure I should buy this album. I genuinely don’t know how much I like this band if it’s supposed to be about the music.
Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings