The Libertines – ‘All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade’ review: they’ve found their voice again

The Libertines – ‘All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade’ review: they’ve found their voice again

The odds were not good that ‘All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade’ would ever come to exist. The Libertines, their generation’s most infamously combustible and self-destructive band, fell apart during the making of 2004’s self-titled second album and spent the next decade wayfaring through the most turbulent of tabloid-infested waters.

They reconvened for the oddly detached ‘Anthems for Doomed Youth’ in 2015 and have toured sporadically over the last nine years. But the prospect of them ever aligning for an album that captured something of their bottled-lightning, early-’00s essence seemed to be remote and dwindling.

Rejoice, then, that ‘…Eastern Esplanade’ pulls it off. From the outset, opener ‘Run Run Run’ finds Carl Barât singing, “It’s a lifelong project of a life on the lash,” reigniting the loose, ramshackle energy of their prime. Immediately, the band are in self-reflective mode, invoking “part-time blaggers” who “know the streets of Camden like the back of their hand”. On ‘Mustang’, Pete Doherty writes evocatively about Traci, proud in her Juicy Couture tracksuit, who likes “a drinky when the kids are at school” and “rides Mustangs to her dreams”.

The Libertines talk being clean and connected: “We just want to write beautiful songs in the moment”

Their wistful romanticism for the past takes on a more fulsome relevance as they stretch into their mid-forties. With their heroin days tentatively confined to the past, their Albion Rooms home base on the Margate seafront has now become the beacon of this new, professionalised era of the band’s lifespan.

It sees them embracing contemporary political issues more than ever before, with ‘Have a Friend’ offering a heartfelt olive branch to those suffering at the hands of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (“Follow the tracks in the mud down to where the Sea is Black with blood”).

The younger Libertines might have addressed such things with an altogether sharper and angrier flair, as on the 2001 May Day riots-inspired ‘Time For Heroes’, but the older, more reflective tone of ‘Merry Old England’, for example, with its mid-pace and sighing strings, is a welcome letter to migrants that shows off a newfound maturity that they pull off seamlessly.

‘Oh Shit’ is a reminder of the proliferation of identikit bands that followed in the Libertines’ original ‘00s slipstream, a punchy, hooky – if ultimately rudimentary – indie dancefloor-filler. More interesting is ‘Baron’s Claw’, with its smoky, after-dark jazz club ambience just a guttural rasp away from a Tom Waits song. ‘Man With the Melody’, meanwhile, gives all four Libertines, including bassist John Hassall and drummer Gary Powell, a chance to take on lead vocals. One of the album’s most effective earworms, it is a gorgeously downturned, melancholic, piano-led track that makes restrained use of sweeping strings, without resorting to sentimentality.

Then there is the elegant ‘Night of the Hunter’, a tale set in the aftermath of an act of violent revenge. The track is packed with cultural signposts, referencing its namesake 1955 film and its iconic “LOVE/HATE” knuckle tattoos, which Doherty updates to read “ACAB”, while making musical nods to everyone from Blur to Tchaikovsky.

On ‘…Eastern Esplanade’, the sense of listening in on a band teetering on the precipice of disaster is gone, replaced by a more stable and necessarily safer version of The Libertines. The results may be patchy, but this is not, and could not be, an album that rides the same intoxicating high as ‘Up the Bracket’. What they have done, though, is find their voice again, and, for the first time in over 20 years, The Libertines feel like a band with a viable future.


Release date: April 5, 2024
Record label: EMI

The post The Libertines – ‘All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade’ review: they’ve found their voice again appeared first on NME.

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