The Libertines: by no stretch of the imagination a great band

Today's Libertines piece in the Guardian celebrates a band who broke down the barrier between artist and fans. But judging from the reader response, not everyone was keen on them – and I agree

Context is everything. The rise of the Libertines was baffling but inevitable. Every other country had its own version of the Strokes (even New Zealand had the Datsuns) and Britain so badly wanted a piece of the action we got ourselves in a terrible lather over a couple of bozos spewing what critics insisted was a "Keatsian evocation of Albion" (trans: shambolic scribbles) over doggedly uninspired retro garage rock.

Throw in a seedy soap opera and – bingo! – a sporadically decent but unremarkable guitar band, who were essentially a slightly grimier Vines or Hives, became saddled with expectations they were ill-equipped to fulfil. Though briefly a great rock'n'roll story, perhaps even a great love affair, by no stretch of the imagination were the Libertines ever a great band.

Have you listened to them lately? Pawing pallidly at their instruments, muttering doggerel into their collars, they sound like nothing so much as that first, staggeringly inept band you formed for a giggle with your schoolmates. Now the only interest lies in determining which is more annoying: Doherty's wheedling voice and manipulative justifications of serially shitty behaviour, Carl Barât's tired repertoire of purloined riffs and chord changes, or the leaden thwack thwack thwack of perhaps the least inspired drummer in history? And their second album has more filler than Andrew Ridgeley's Greatest Hits.

Every strained note shrugs "will this do?" This was their USP, of course: glorified buskers wearing their can't-be-arsed incompetence as a badge of honour. Their reunion betrays even that meagre talent. With the conditions dictated by festival coffers, these shows will have precious little spontaneity or sense of event, the only aspect of their shtick that was even remotely engrossing.

After the almost metaphysical mediocrity of Barât's Dirty Pretty Things and Doherty's countless foot-shooting antics, they now need the Libertines much more than we do; there are tax bills to settle and careers to keep afloat. And for anyone still pining improbably for the long lost Arcadia of 2003, remember this is the band directly responsible for the likes of Razorlight and the Fratellis crawling out of their holes. What a glorious legacy.


Graeme Thomson

The GuardianTramp

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