The Libertines’ mighty debut LP ‘Up The Bracket’ is over 13 years old. Fittingly for a record in its teenage years, it’s an album that still sounds fidgety, restless and gloriously antagonistic – one that fuses wide-eyed, Albion-dreaming escapism with back-alley London scuffles and a rowdy us-against-the-world gang mentality.
With The Libs back on track and finishing up their first ever arena tour, it’s also an album that remains relevant, rather than merely being nostalgic. But which tracks still more than pass muster and which have sunk to the bottom of the pile?
Here are all 12 tracks on the original release, ranked from hero to waster.
12. ‘Radio America’
Almost universally agreed by fans as the duffer on an otherwise excellent debut, ‘Radio America’ is the demo session track that somehow snaked its way onto the record. Ambling along acoustically, it’s got some nicely picturesque Doherty imagery (“And they watched old films flicker across the old palace movie screen”) but is ultimately pretty disposable.
‘Begging’ might subtly shuffle in on Gary Powell’s inching drumbeats, but don’t be fooled: when it kicks it, it’s a beast. Full of sneering Carl snarls (“my soul has gone a little cold”), its probably the album’s most embittered, angry moment.
10. ‘Boys In The Band’
A needling riff and incessant pace drive ‘Boys In The Band’ – one of the record’s more noted tunes – forward, broken up by its sing-song chorus, gently mocking the try-hards and fakes. The boys in this particular band, however, were onto something pretty good.
9. ‘I Get Along’
Pete might have notoriously thought the song was crap, but Carl’s 100 mph, lyrically trippy and nonsensical album closer worked like a charm. 10 extra points for the track’s crowning “fuck ’em” climax – i.e. one of the great uniting moments of any Libs gig.
8. ‘Tell The King’
A song of two halves, ‘Tell The King’ expertly pitted Pete and Carl’s yin/yang vocal styles to brilliantly schizophrenic effect as they lay lyrical waste to The Man and The System. Pete, lethargic and soft, somehow innocent and utterly venomous at the same time; Carl all blustering, heart-on-sleeve angst and emotion – together, they made a perfect whole.
“Oh no, please don’t show me!/ I’m a swine and you don’t wanna know me” yells Pete, like a rowdy Dickensian yob or someone who’s just had something fiery and red shoved up his nether regions. Teetering on the edge of collapse, ‘Horrorshow’ does what it says on the tin in the most brilliantly ramshackle of ways.
6. ‘Up The Bracket’
Any track that opens with the kind of elongated, blood-curdling howl that ‘Up The Bracket’ does can never be bad. Telling tales of two shadow men on the Vallance Road (aka The Kray twins), it’s a dangerous, seedy story of dodgy dealings and quintessentially London grit.
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‘Vertigo’ is all about the riff. A jumpy, antsy thing that can’t sit still, it bounces along with speedy (take that word however you will), reckless energy: a brilliant statement of intent to open their debut.
4. ‘The Boy Looked At Johnny’
Named after a riled-up punk rant of a book penned by former NME legends Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill and reportedly penned about former Libs bassist and Razorlight comedy target Johnny Borrell, ‘TBLAJ’ is a playful romp that takes in Doherty’s love of old British comedy and spits out a rag-tag ditty full of witty one-liners. “Don’t you know who I think I am?”
3. ‘The Good Old Days’
In the game of Libertines bingo, ‘The Good Old Days’ is the card you want to have in your cards. Mentions of the Arcadian dream? Tick. Sailing on the good ship Albion? Tick. Romantic lines about keeping your faith in love and music? Tick. You’ll have a glorious full house of Pete and Carl’s wistful, escapist inner world in no time.
2. ‘Time For Heroes’
One of the great Libs singles – nay indie bangers in general – ‘Time For Heroes’ goes straight into the Top Five purely for the legendary line “There are fewer more distressing sights than that/ Of an English man in a baseball cap”. It’s trilbies or nothing for Peter. Of course, either side of that line there are hooks for miles, politicized nods to the London May Day riots and the kind of soaring melody built for throwing your arm around your mate in giddy unity.
1. ‘Death On The Stairs’
OK, so ‘Time For Heroes’ might be many people’s Number One, but we’re not just being contrary. ‘Death On The Stairs’ has the weirdly emotional opening riff. ‘Death On The Stairs’ has some of the Libs’ best lyrics (“I’m reversing down the lonely stree/ To a cheap hotel where I can meet the past/ Pay it off and keep it sweet”). ‘Death On The Stairs’ is a duel vocal, team effort that shows off both frontmen at their finest, working in unison. It is excellent, and it is ‘Up The Bracket”s understated crowning glory.