All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade by The Libertines – Album Review

All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade by The Libertines – Album Review logo

By David Schuster

Like throwing a grenade into the Serpentine, The Libertines’ first release, Up the Bracket, way back in 2002, caused a stir in musical history, the ripples of which are still felt today. The lyrics were edgy, offering a glimpse of London life, as seen through the gritty lens of Guy Ritchie; dark, rain-washed streets, deserted save for sharp-suited sharks on the lookout for easy pickings. It was a world you wouldn’t want to live in, but boy was it fun to visit.

Then, with the inevitability of an industry trope, came the long-foreseen breakup. Having initially been propelled by the tension of the bizarre love/hate triangle between charismatic frontmen, Pete Doherty, Carl Barât, and pretty much any available form of substance abuse, the band burned brightly for a few years, and another album, before disintegrating in a welter of arguments and fist fights. But that’s when time re-wrote the script; no-one died in a sordid Amsterdam hotel room, and the genuine friendship between Barât and Doherty, meant that they continued to at least try and work together, sometimes even successfully. The result was, a full eleven years later, a third release, Anthems for Doomed Youth, which surprised many people by being pretty good.

All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade by The Libertines – Album Review band

The Libertines, 2024
image: Ed Cooke

“Losing control”

But, pretty good, isn’t stellar. The question remained, could The Libertines ever come close to re-capturing the magic of Up the Bracket? Fast forward another nine years to 2024 and the eagerly awaited arrival of All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade provides the answer: Yes. Yes, they can. At least in part.

Long term fans can be reassured that tracks, such as ‘Merry Old England’, ‘Have a Friend’ and ‘Mustang’ could genuinely be dropped seamlessly into the first two albums. This is remarkable when you consider the decades that have passed, and the fact that Doherty has just celebrated his 45th birthday, a point where you really can’t avoid the label of middle-aged. The lyrics of ‘Mustang’ immediately place you centre stage into a gritty, breadline reality. “Tracy likes a drinkie, when the kids are at school”, a hopelessness that contrasts fabulously against bright guitar and slightly lairy backing vocals. The driving riff and sudden changes of pace of ‘Have a Friend’ give it a fantastic, just on the edge of losing control feel.

So far, there have been no less than four pre-release singles taken from the record, probably because of publication date delays, and it’s with some of these choices that I have my only slight concern. ‘Run Run Run’, the first of these, is a nice, poppy song. But are ‘nice’ and ‘poppy’ adjectives which you’d expect to be associated with The Libertines? As the first single, producer Dimitri Tikovoï was perhaps trying too hard, and as a result polished all the band’s character out of it.

“Chaotic drive”

All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade by The Libertines – Album Review cover‘Shiver’ was a strange choice for the second single, being one of the few weak tracks on the album. However, ‘Oh Shit’, the most recent, is a catchy, simple, singalong tune. I’m really looking forward to seeing this one performed live, as I’m sure it will be met with the same level of crowd participation as Jamie T’s ‘Zombie’, of which it bears a strong resemblance. My reservation is that it’s unlikely to get any radio play because of the repeated profanity of the chorus. Perhaps though, radio exposure doesn’t matter as much in the Spotify age. That said, the third single, whimsical ‘Night of the Hunter’, which features a Swan Lake inspired/borrowed tag, is excellent. It’s lent a giddy, nightmarish quality by being played on an other-worldly sounding theremin. No, really.

There’s plenty of other stand out songs; ‘Be Young’ is so good it made me quite emotional that the band could ever be this great, let alone after this long. It shares the same chaotic drive, full acceleration then brake, character of ‘Have a Friend’, but pairs it with a classic reggae middle eight that would make Joe Strummer smile. It channels its nihilism through a tongue-in-cheek filter, which shines through in the ironic cuteness of the chorus, “Oh! The young fall in love.” This should have been the first single to be taken from the album.

The Libertines’ future has never looked better. The band have created the Albion Rooms studio in Margate, meaning that, when the circumstances are right, they can always get together to record. Perhaps because of this, all the members are jointly credited with writing All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade, which shows an unusual level of camaraderie. However, even if they can only do this once a decade, it’ll be worth the wait.

All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade by The Libertines is out now


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