Twenty tumultuous years after their debut album, it’s still not entirely clear whether The Libertines were the first great British rock band of the 21st century, heroically carrying the torch held by rebels from Lord Byron to Joe Strummer with hedonistic panache, or a bunch of chancers.
They’ve certainly gone the whole hog here. There’s a Deluxe version that adds a 2002 concert at the 100 Club to the remastered original. There’s a Super Deluxe box that adds previously unreleased demos, B-sides, outtakes, further live recordings and radio sessions. Throw in a cassette and a couple of seven-inch singles, and 11 shortish, sharpish songs have exploded into an 85-headed beast. There’s also a book and a DVD. Of course there is.
Kate Moss and Kirsty Wark making fools of themselves and Pete Doherty’s incarceration were in the future, and everything outside the actual music (Doherty’s somewhat wayward lifestyle; the incessant harping on about ‘Albion’) was very much of its time. Yet for all the comparisons to The Strokes and The Kinks, the music is timeless; Times For Heroes and The Good Old Days in particular are as much 1972 as 2002, and Doherty and Carl Barat were the real songwriting deal. Up The Bracket is a terrific album. That it’s no longer surrounded by tabloid hullaballoo makes it better still.
Is the expansion worth the effort, though? For the most part, yes, although releasing demos of an album that already sounded quite demo-ish does not make for anything especially eyebrow-raising, other than illustrating how producer Mick Jones (The Clash not Foreigner, sadly) brought new rigour and vigour to standouts I Get Along and Vertigo.
The band are tight on the pristine live show, and while it’s short on chat it thrills. The studio out-takes show that the song pool hadn’t been fully drained. Breck Road Lover and The Domestic could have graced the album, and the version of The Ha Ha Wall knocks the one that made it on to album number two into whatever a cocked hat is.
The 85 tracks could have been trimmed, but that’s not really the point. This biggest of pictures is a reminder that when you cancel the extra-curricular noise The Libertines were great.