Nostalgic News: The Libertines’ ‘Up The Bracket’ is 20 Years Old!


The Libertines’ debut album Up The Bracket celebrates its twentieth birthday this month, and I’d like to wish it many happy returns.

The Libertines could be entirely summed up by the first three seconds of the song ‘Up the Bracket’. Have a listen and then come back here. Bit of a racket, isn’t it? But it’s a racket that I love, to the extent that aged 15, I bought a very horrible khaki jacket just so I could look like Carl Barat in the ‘Time For Heroes’ video. Mine was from Hollister which perhaps wasn’t quite as punk as I’d intended, but you get the sentiment.

The Libertines at the NME awards 2004 Credit: Dean Chalkley

What I’m getting at, is that the Libertines are a great band – and Up The Bracket is, perhaps, their best album. In their prime, they were so often over-shadowed by high-profile flings (Kate Moss), and drug-dalliances (smack) indulged by certain members of the band (Pete Doherty), that their music seemed, at best, secondary and, at worst, irrelevant. But they were so anarchic, so poetic and so brilliant that it’s almost blasphemous they aren’t as revered as they should be! They combined the chaos of the Buzzcocks and pop-sensibilities of Ray Davies, with wit-soaked lyrics inspired by poets such as William Blake. Barat and Doherty were the perfect frontmen: scruffy, charismatic, painfully well-read, and the well-documented volatility of their relationship gave the Libertines a hefty element of tragedy about them. All this ultimately manifested itself in the absolute carnage of their debut album: Up The Bracket. And I mean carnage in the most enjoyable sense.

On the face of it, Up The Bracket seems a fairly standard album for its time, arriving in 2002 when the number of  homogeneous guitar bands were reaching epidemic proportions. But ‘The Libs’ had, let’s say, a more ‘carefree’ approach to musical proficiency than their contemporaries, and fortunately, producer Mick Jones understood that herein lay the band’s charm; his hands-off production style would exploit their scuzzy, unrefined nature to great effect, with Up The Bracket sounding more like a lager-soaked live performance than studio recording. The album begins with ‘Vertigo’; an appropriately frantic New-York-Dolls-tinged introduction to the Libertines, setting the tone for both the following 37 minutes and the band’s career trajectory, before slapping you in the face with the album’s outright punkiest number, ‘Horrorshow’, which is utterly shambolic and makes me dizzy. Dotted throughout are the certified bangers ‘Death On The Stairs’, ‘Boys In The Band’ and ‘Time For Heroes’ which include a lovely combination of barbershop-style backing vocals and an all-too-rare tribute to The Wombles. Although the Barat-led latter half of the album does tend to drag a bit, with the hits mainly residing up top, never does Up The Bracket let you pause for breath. I hate this word, but it is genuinely rollicking.

I don’t think guitar music has been properly fun since The Libertines; one could argue ‘The Libs’ were having slightly too much fun (read: heroin addiction), but their music was raucous and witty and frequently funny, to an extent that we don’t often hear today – only Pete Doherty could compare Ulysses to the Beano. Some may say the album is slightly derivative of…well… the entire history of British rock music, but those people are very boring. Up The Bracket is the sound of a couple of charlatans losing their minds, and is boisterous and charmingly shoddy in reflection – it’s the kind of album that makes you want to get leathered and climb into a wheelie bin. So, if you like scrappy kids with guitars and properly good pop, then give Up The Bracket a listen – just have an Anadin beforehand.

You can listen to the eponymous track from Up The Bracket, via Rough Trade Records, here:



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