As they emerge from yet another triumphant return, here’s a look back at the Libertines most evocative lyrics to date, from ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ to ‘Time For Heroes’…
10 ‘The Man Who Would be King’
Subtlety’s a rare virtue in The Libs’ dreamy Arcadian universe, but Pete and Carl play it low-key on this haunting highlight of their self-titled second album. So it’s all the more disarming when, alluding to Pete’s temporary sacking the previous year, Carl slides in this muttered, cautionary aside in the track’s mysterious, piano-waltz outro.
On the self-referential follow-up to ‘Up the Bracket’, Pete and Carl deconstructed their own mythology by reflecting on fickle fame. Most indignant is ‘Narcissist’, in which Carl sneers deliciously at the hero worship of fans seduced by the press’s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll narrative of the Libs – a narrative the band themselves had no hand in whatsoever, of course.
8 ‘I Love You But You’re Green’
With only two albums to call their own, any long-suffering Libs fan will have amassed a treasure trove of rarities over the years. Buried in the essential ‘Babyshambles Sessions’ is ‘I Love You But You’re Green’, a shambling ballad whose finest lyric is a rallying cry for daydreamers everywhere. Babyshambles gave the lackadaisical track a full recording on their ‘The Blinding’ EP, but it sounds most at home here, frayed at the seams, as if beamed direct from Pete’s sleepy subconscious.
When Pete and Carl weren’t daydreaming their way out of Dickensian drudgery, they occasionally shot us a glimpse of the everyday horror they saw around them. ‘Cyclops’, best captured on the riotous ‘Piss Me Off’ bootleg, does just that, blasting vacuous pop culture institutions with bloodthirsty glee.
6 ‘The Good Old Days’
‘Up the Bracket’’s witty yarns could’ve positioned Pete and Carl as indie’s court jesters, chasing the next tall tale to keep their (and our) imaginations busy. Then, just like that, penultimate track ‘The Good Old Days’ channeled all their grandiose romance and doomed optimism into one gut-wrenching climax that cemented them in rock’s high pantheon. The end might’ve been nearer than they’d hoped, but the pair’s faith never waned.
5 ‘You’re My Waterloo’
Before the myth-making commenced, Pete’s songwriting hallmark was a taste for chain-smoking women as giggly and aloof as a Jean-Luc Godard muse. This witty line, sung with a lovestruck, teen-Bowie tremor, casts its gaze on one such obsession, hinting at her unspoken trauma that’s just beyond the lusty narrator’s reach.
4 ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’
Named after the metal sign that greeted prisoners to Auschwitz, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, meaning “work makes you free”, is a 75-second punk squabble that yanks the self-titled record out of its self-referential spiral. Wailing above the frenzy, Pete launches a savage attack on past-it patriots who cling to Britain’s military history while indulging the same fascist principles Churchill supposedly conquered. Ukip, take note.
3 ‘What Became of the Likely Lads’
Pete’s first ejection from the Libertines came when he broke into Carl’s flat, where, unbeknownst to Pete, Carl’s poorly sister had been holed up alone. Rather than let the truth damage a good story, Pete spun his sacking into a glorious series of sensational barbs and quips that made ‘The Libertines’ so timelessly alluring. It’s also the tensest rock record since The Smiths’ crisis-point LP ‘Strangeways Here We Come’, with lines like this one, which laces together the group saga’s legal and personal aspects, drawing awkward shudders even as it tugs at your heartstrings.
2 ‘Time for Heroes’
Romantic visions of Blighty, working-class pride, Artful-Dodger wit – this defining verse from ‘Up the Bracket’’s key single is so quintessentially Libertines that it’s swaggering drunk through Soho in a straw hat and military jacket. Penned in the midst of 2000’s anti-capitalist May Day riots, the tempestuous track deftly plants dream-weaving lyrics into the eye of the ramshackle storm. Plus, the “baseball cap” lyric earned ‘Up the Bracket’ a gold sticker in John Peel’s record collection – praise doesn’t come much higher.
1 ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’
The two-year gap between ‘Up the Bracket’ and ‘The Libertines’ saw the ruins of Pete and Carl’s relationship excavated, shipped out for analysis and ground up into tabloid catnip. So the pair’s return with ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, a volleyed back-and-forth that chronicles their disintegrating friendship, was guaranteed to grab headlines. But it’s Pete’s vulnerability, elegantly captured in this magic, oft-quoted couplet, that gets closest to the truth of the matter. Not just withering self-criticism, but a mantra for shipwrecked dreamers everywhere.