With Carl revived by the rebirth of The Libertines, this second album crackles with delinquent fervour and lyrical punch
Some rock’n’roll dogs were born to hunt in packs. Lifelong devotees to the last gang in town, they’re tied to their brothers with a frayed guitar string, a shared uniform and the bond of WWI trench survivors. The 36-year-old Carl Barât is one such wolf that could never go lone. His self-titled 2010 solo album, coming after the first Libertines reunion, indulged his baroque theatrical bent, but didn’t make space for his ravenous natural bite. Back then, he had the air of the romantic poet wasting away in some Whitechapel garret, wracked with depression and picturing himself as some kind of Dickensian Serge Gainsbourg. But look how alive he seems today. Invigorated by The Libertines’ much more positive comeback and sucking the lifeblood from a bunch of fresh bandmates in The Jackals, he’s part Fagin, part Iggy, part punk rock warrior leading his noble band of brothers into a battle against seemingly insurmountable odds. “We are not afraid of anyone!” he bawls on ‘Victory Gin’, pumped with all the rebel rock valour you can squeeze out of a half-litre bottle of Gordon’s Special Dry, “I defy anyone to tell me I am wrong!”
You’re not wrong, Carl. Even though The Jackals were put together by audition after much of ‘Let It Reign’ was recorded in LA with The Bronx’s guitarist Joby J Ford and a thrown-together bunch of punk musos including former My Chemical Romance drummer Arod Alexander and Childish Gambino bassist Ray Suen, Carl’s jubilation at being back amongst fellow rock grotbags crackles through these corroded reels. As always, The Clash and the ideals of wartime British backbone are his benchmarks. The ragged shanty of opener ‘Glory Days’ tacks a tribute to the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers shot for desertion and cowardice after World War I, to a tale of those lairy lads-together nights on the razz that – tsk, what are we like? – always seem to end up in a prison cell with no memory of who you hurt to get there, no shoelaces and a trouserful of shit. ‘Summer In The Trenches’ veers from scorching Libs thrash to ska, Carl’s vocals as scratchy and scabrous as VD. ‘A Storm Is Coming’ – the record’s catchiest song – is ‘London Calling’ charging into enemy fire. It’s fuzzed-to-fuck, bloody-toothed British garage rock that sounds like it’s been dug out of the Somme on wax cylinder, and it rocks like a hand grenade suppository.
Mid-album, Carl’s more reflective side creeps in, but he still packs a lyrical punch. ‘Beginning To See’ couches a suave diatribe against organised religion in chamber strings and distorted acoustic guitar, an atheist troubadour strumming his protest song out in the increasingly barbed theological no man’s land. ‘March Of The Idle’ is a mid-paced strumble akin to a shoutier ‘Coffee & TV’ tackling 21st Century cultural and political apathy, and ‘Let It Rain’ is a stirring Phil Spector-esque ode of desolation wracked with paeans to some troublesome partner well versed in pressing his best-hidden buttons.
Pete? Perhaps, but Carl’s reclaimed brother from another mother more likely appears in raucous centre-point ‘War Of The Roses’. Like an Oasis anthem for tramps, it employs scuzzy horns, a loping ‘All Around The World’ groove and the bombast of The Who to tell a story of a couple of double-crossing low-lives fighting over drugs and girls. It’s arguably Barât’s most ambitious song yet, and certainly the most rousing tune ever to feature the couplet “’Give me your last line’ said Dave, ‘and I’ll give you my dog’”. It’s testament to Carl’s reinvigoration, and to the most electric and exuberant record he’s made since ‘Up The Bracket’.
Director: Joby J Ford
Record label: Cooking Vinyl
Release date: 16 Feb, 2015