Not since Zeppelin at the O2 has there been an easier rock open goal than The Libertines’ reunion. So drug-fucked and half-arsed was Pete Doherty’s contribution to 2004’s self-titled second album that simply turning up and sounding like he’s not just whimpering along for crack cash will be hailed a triumph.
He certainly manages that; recorded in Thailand post-rehab, this long-awaited third album finds Pete relatively sharp and self-aware – ‘Don’t know if I can go on making no sense in song,’ he drawls on Belly Of The Beast – and the album is awash with self-admonishing imagery of over-used veins and tightened straps.
Meanwhile, his counterfoil Carl Barat, while empathetically poring over alcohol and therapy issues, seems relieved to be back after hammering the clubs with his solo band The Jackals. These iconic indie Likely Lads, though deeply battle-scarred, ride again.
True, a race against relapse might have stymied the songwriting. The most rounded tunes – notably ornate piano ballad You’re My Waterloo – are unreleased early leftovers, and newer songs gravitate to familiar ground. Gunga Din is standard early-album cod-reggae filler and Fame And Fortune, pining for the indie scene roister-doistering of their youth, is an endearing pastiche of their Edwardian East End urchin schtick featuring percussion, presumably, by Dick Van Dyke heel-clicks.
But a clutch of fine torch songs (Iceman, Dead For Love, the title track) save the day, suaveness replacing the sordid sweat of old. Their youth was doomed, but their adulthood shows promise.