CD: Dirty Pretty Things, Waterloo to Anywhere


Dignity is a rare commodity among rock stars. They don't act with dignity, they certainly don't age with dignity and they seldom die with dignity. Indeed, rock stars seem to pride themselves on coming up with ever-more undignified ways to die: expiring of an overdose in a seedy motel while a tearful groupie shoves ice cubes up your bum, asphyxiating yourself while having some kind of perplexingly elaborate orgasm. In fairness, you could argue that behaving in a dignified manner isn't part of the rock star's job description: instead, they're expected to carry off clothes that would cause any ordinary person to have mud thrown at them, be rude to stewardesses and call their offspring Jalfrezi or Nutella.

It's a state of affairs that leaves Carl Barât in an anomalous position. Over the past year, dignity is what he has become best-known for. Throughout the whole tawdry collapse of the Libertines and beyond, Barat has maintained a decorous silence. This is no mean feat: the band's co-founder Pete Doherty seems intent not merely on behaving like a ninny at every given opportunity and publicly pursuing a path to ice-cubes-up-the-bum-dom, but in swiping at his former bandmate in that self-pitying it's-everyone's-fault-but-mine manner that makes junkies such famously delightful company.

Under the circumstances, it would be a pleasure to report that Barât's new band Dirty Pretty Things' debut is a triumph befitting the clearly decent man who made it. The truth is rather more complicated. The listless, Doherty-less Libertines gigs that Barât played to fulfil the band's obligations, and the dismal, half-baked indulgence of Doherty's new band Babyshambles, suggest the Libertines were something rather more than the sum of their parts. This is not an impression that Waterloo to Anywhere, with its slightly spiffed-up version of the Libertines' ramalama punk, does much to dispel.

That said, its peaks at least overturn the oft-expressed belief that Doherty was the driving force behind the Libertines' flashes of greatness and Barat merely his stooge. Doctors and Dealers whizzes by, a perfectly formed pop song propelled by rocket fuel. The ramshackle glam-rock stomp of single Bang Bang, You're Dead is equally irresistible, while the closing B.U.R.M.A is fabulous, its sweetly crooned vocal and romantic sentiment chafing against frantically strummed acoustic guitar. There are moments where inspiration was clearly in short supply: You Fucking Love It sounds like lumpen-punk knuckleheads Sham 69 (something the Libertines always threatened to do); If You Love a Woman is a clunking mess; some of the lyrics are clumsy, not least the line about "bloodthirsty bastards making plans for no one on their own". But it has charm, which is more than you can say for Babyshambles' Down in Albion, which made you feel like slapping the person responsible about the head.

Barat would probably complain that such comparisons with his former bandmate's work are unhelpful: he has understandably made much of wanting to leave the Libertines behind. But despite Barat's protestations to the contrary, the ghost of the man now known to the tabloids as Potty Pete appears to lurk around much of Waterloo to Anywhere. There are references to "cranked-up quacks with cracked-up egos" and people laughing at someone who's "a legend in your mind but a rumour in your room". Doctors and Dealers bemoans having "to watch the crowds haphazardly chase him down the drain". Barat says these lyrics aren't about his erstwhile comrade, but it scarcely matters: everyone will assume they are.

Carl Barat can't seem to escape Pete Doherty, a sensation familiar to any newspaper reader. Even the album's reception seems bound up in Doherty's fate. Waterloo to Anywhere has been greeted by the music press with critical hosannas that seem slightly at odds with its uneven contents. You can understand their thinking. They want to salvage something from the wreckage of a band on which so much expectation rested. But big expectations sit uncomfortably on Waterloo To Anywhere.

It doesn't sound like a masterpiece; then again, it does nothing to damage its maker's reputation, which is more than you can say for Doherty's post-Libertines efforts. At the very least, Barât emerges with his dignity intact.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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