THE LIBERTINES – “Time For Heroes”

If The Smiths flew in today, the NME might send a limousine anyway – but would you? G-V-B-D rock band, four boys, definite article/plural noun – pretty unpromising, no? Another week, another cover, another attitude, another rubber stamp: Next! They-shall-not-pass is the obvious attitude I take to the new garage rockers – ’cause there does seem to be that dread alliance of competence and homogeny I find in styles I don’t care about. They all know their stuff (though maybe the problem’s that I know mine too) – none of it’s entirely dire but where’s the itch, the shock, the kick?

I like writing about records I’m not completely sure of – where I’m ambivalent, doubting my own reactions. There’s something immediately, deep-down appealing to me about The Libertines, and something slightly worrying, midly repellent about them too. I mentioned the Smiths because a closed-door policy means you might never know when something good comes along, but also because theirs is the territory this band are stumbling through. Some of it’s obvious – when I hear a man singing with desperate camp about English boy rioters and STDs, I’m going to think of Morrissey. When he ends his chorus warbling “I cherish you my love” I’m going to want a DNA test. Some of it’s more subtle: a bounce here, a tumble here, a mix of jauntiness and gawkiness, a faint scent of gladioli.

And they don’t exactly sound like The Smiths – it’s a territory thing, like I said, and the Smiths were hardly the first to prowl it. They’re rickety and in a hurry, so they remind me sometimes of Subway Sect. They care more about spiking up their guitars, about rocking, so they remind me slightly of Gallon Drunk. They’re gauche like Orange Juice and louche like the Flaming Stars – patchwork pop to be sure but it explains why they flick my appreciation like a switch. I walked the territory myself for a long time, and it still feels like home.

But what do they bring that’s new? Here’s where the repulsion comes in – The Libertines aren’t entirely museum-keepers like Interpol, they’re very much a product of their own time and place, and their time and place is London in the middle of a quick-buck new-rock boom. They take everything from the past except its vulnerability, and instead fill up on attitude. Their album is brimful of attitude, the same brittle swagger all the bands have now, but here it’s infecting the things I find precious. I like the past the way it is – it’s still nourishing – but I like playing this record too, letting it disturb me, letting it tempt me.