MOD: A Time for Heroes reveals just how very British the Libertines were from the start.
In the six years since Pete Doherty emerged as a singer/guitarist/songwriter in the Libertines — a band who were almost immediately crowned rock-and-roll saviors by the British press — he’s been arrested twice, spent two months of a six-month sentence in jail, and been in and out of rehabs that have included a three-day stint at Thailand’s Thamkrabok Monastery for heroin addiction. But not even Doherty’s regular absences were enough to hold back the Libertines. It didn’t hurt that they got at least tacit endorsements from two bona fide members of UK rock royalty: Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who produced their first single and then returned for their fourth (“Don’t Look Back into the Sun”), and Mick Jones of the Clash, who produced their debut album, 2002’s Up the Bracket (Rough Trade). Built around a songwriting partnership between Doherty and Carl Barât (whose flat Doherty was charged with burglarizing in the summer of 2003), the Libertines somehow remained intact long enough to record a solid sophomore album, 2003’s The Libertines (Rough Trade), and chart a #2 UK single with the telling “Can’t Stand Me Now” in 2004 before calling it quits. On December 17, 2004, the band played their last show in Paris. Doherty, as seemed fitting, wasn’t there.
But Doherty was far from done. Even before the Libertines had thrown in the towel, he’d begun to write and record under the Babyshambles moniker. So as Barât moved on to lead his own Dirty Pretty Things, Doherty, whose on-and-off relationship with troubled supermodel Kate Moss kept his name in the press, brought his songwriting talents and much of the Libertines’ rakish star power along with him to Babyshambles.
In spite of all the tabloid chatter that continues to follow him, Doherty has proved to be the genuine article: a real junkie savant with a gift for biting lyrics, gritty hooks, and the kind of casual charm that often comes with living on the edge. The more grounded Barât, it now appears, was just a temporary foil for Doherty and his reckless charisma. Indeed, with the celebrity press here in the US still feasting on the comically tragic disaster that Britney Spears has become, it’s hard to come away from the new Babyshambles album, Shotter’s Nation (Astralwerks), or even the new The Best of the Libertines: A Time for Heroes (Rough Trade), without the sinking feeling that they have way better fuck-ups in the UK than we do here in the States.
Given their short lifespan, the very idea of a Libertines greatest-hits disc is a bit much. Perhaps if there were previously unreleased treasures in the Libertines vault, then some sort of rarities disc would be in order. But A Time for Heroes does little more than bring the band’s first single, “What a Waster,” together with six tracks from Up the Bracket, three from The Libertines, and three more from the 2003 I Get Along EP. In other words, it’s a solid primer for anyone who missed the Libertines the first time around. There’s certainly nothing here a dedicated fan won’t already be familiar with.