Anthems for Doomed Youth is a surprise. Looming into sight an entire eleven years after the Libertines’ second, last, and eponymous album due to the frontmen’s infamous falling out, this is a record that many wouldn’t dare to dream could exist at all. Fans were surprised in January 2015 when it was announced recording for Anthems for Doomed Youth had spontaneously begun in Thailand.
Consequently, this could well be the band’s most important album in terms of cementing their legacy, and has more than enough expectations to live up to, considering Up the Bracket and The Libertines are two of the most influential albums of the noughties. From the start, album opener “Barbarians” features weaving, duelling and chaotic guitars a la Barat that are doubly reminiscent of the Libertines of yore when combined with the shared vocal duties of Doherty and Barat, invoking the archetypal image of Doherty and Barat intimately sharing the mic to a crowd of thousands. So far, so good.
Next, the album continues with lead single “Gunga Din,” one of the most impressive tracks on the album. With its dubby bassline, infectious staccato guitar and Rudyard Kipling influenced lyrics which conjure up images of booze filled binges and the “chagrin” of heroin addiction. Unfortunately, “Gunga Din” is about as good as The Libertines’ song writing gets on Anthems in comparison to the garrulous sound of their early days. It is only to be found only sparingly on tracks such as “Glasgow Coma Scale Blues,” “Fury of Chonburi” and memorable quasi-theatrical track “Fame or Fortune”. Despite the aggression and tempo in these tracks, they don’t live up to their previous counterparts in terms of the sheer deranged aural velocity of tunes such as “Death on the Stairs,” “Don’t Look Back Into The Sun,” or “Time for Heroes”.
However, in its mellower moments Anthems For Doomed Youth matches songs from The Libertines’ back catalogue such as “Music When The Lights Go Out” and “Radio America” with equally moving new incarnations in a similar vein such as the slow building “Iceman,” achingly melodic “You’re My Waterloo” and standout track “The Milkman’s Horse”.
Indeed, this record may do no harm to the Libertines’ legacy but it does little to reinforce it either. The sound is polished to a blinding sheen, the melodies are sometimes addictive and the guitars are usually sharp but the listener can’t help but feel that something is missing; the album does not have the unbridled energy of its predecessors and when it tries to stand on its own terms its stance is wobbly and its gait disconcerted. This is its greatest fault of this largely mediocre album. The Libertines may be freshly ensconced in fraternal unity, yet they are unified in a present with a pallid and opaque sound, shining with faint embers of brilliance reminiscent of a far gone past. The only question left now to ask is if the fire is already dead, or merely being used to fumigate the demons one last time.
Words: Iain MacDonald