Album Review

The Libertines - All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade

It has the hallmarks of the Likely Lads’ heyday - to an extent.

The Libertines - All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade

When The Libertines released their third LP back in 2015, the charming if somewhat overly polished ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’, it felt like the rightful closing act to the shambolic tale of a band persevering against all odds. The tumultuous relationship between Carl Barât and Pete Doherty had calmed, the latter soundly off the sauce and back in the saddle to deliver a record many assumed would never come. Nearly a decade on, a fourth Libertines album feels almost surplus to requirement in the canon of one of England’s last great rock bands.

‘All Quiet On the Eastern Esplanade’ has the hallmarks of the Likely Lads’ heyday - to an extent. It’s difficult not to crack a smile at the Barât-led ‘Run Run Run’, a breathless opening sprint that trips over itself with all the cheek of ‘Time For Heroes’ and the like. It lacks the nuance of those classic singles which set the band apart from their landfill contemporaries, but its tone is clearly dictated: Still youthful! Still energetic! Still very much alive and kicking, thanks!

There are a few glimmering moments here which deserve to join the ranks of ‘Don’t Look Back Into the Sun’ and all the rest, one being Doherty’s ‘Merry Old England’. Building from a cagey piano melody to a rousing, Bond-like chorus, it features one of the most impressive vocal performances of the frontman’s career. Its damning lyrics, a realisation that Blighty ain’t the same island she was twenty years ago, suit their author in this more mature age. On Carl’s side, ‘Oh Shit’ is cut from the same cloth as ‘Run Run Run’, a blokey up-tempo banger which doesn’t offer much food for thought, but that’s fine; it’s enough that the gang got back together, and seem to be happy, healthy, and having a great time.

What The Libertines fail to recapture on ‘…Esplanade’ is the endearing shabbiness of those early recordings, where ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ largely went wrong too. Following the blueprint of Blur and The Rolling Stones’ recent returns, Dimitri Tikovoï’s glossy production, presumably intended to give the album more of a radio-friendly appeal, doesn’t gel with an act so synonymous with druggy, scummy, indie sleaze. Doing away with their younger selves’ reputation for the kitsch and dirty is a natural evolution for these men who, sure, can be fairly described as all middle-aged now. But like a film grain filter on a digital photo, the sheen on otherwise riotous cuts like ‘Mustang’ and ‘Shiver’ feels misplaced.

Pigs will fly before The Libertines write a better hook than ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, or conjure such potent romance as they did sharing a microphone and cigarette smoke at Glastonbury nine years ago. With a mythos to match their iconic, unusual discography (two acclaimed albums almost back-to-back, a resurrection a decade on, and now this) the Libs know ‘as good as’ is the most logical thing to aim for with ‘…Esplanade’. After all, even the weakest Libs composition is a standard many British songwriters can only aspire to, to this day. If nothing else, it’s heartwarming that the story is still unfolding for the Likely Lads.

Tags: The Libertines, Reviews, Album Reviews

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