The Libertines’ recent festival reunion was blessed – legends-in-their-own-lunchtime (well, they didn’t last very long) overcome bessie-mate bust-up to deliver a ‘greatest’ set list minus the ‘hope you like our new direction’ part. But there’s a touch of the curse about it too, as Carl Barât’s solo debut album has the tough task of very quickly following the band’s comeback.
Try as they might, Barât’s Dirty Pretty Things felt too contrived. The strength of his present set-up is that whatever form his songs deserve, they get. It means that ‘ruffian swagger’ is no longer a default setting, while the focus has shifted from Albion to a more European canon. Barât’s new collaborators reputedly include a member (or two) of British balladeers Cousteau, who share something of Tindersticks’ Gallic charm. It’s no great surprise given Barât’s French/Russian/Polish roots – though you probably weren’t expecting him to do the time warp as well.
Opener The Magus finds its feet around 1974, sounding more than a touch glam and theatrical, with splintering Aladdin Sane piano. It’s just a small step to the Brel/Brecht drama of The Fall (don’t forget, Barât’s forthcoming book Threepenny Memoir takes its cue from Brecht’s Threepenny Opera) while Shadows Fall’s sad chords and sadder cellos are stained with Serge Gainsbourg’s cigarette smoke. Je Regrette, Je Regrette even has a French title, though there’s nowhere on Googlemaps for this concoction of 60s Joe Meek production, muscular Smithsian bass, Libertines skiffle and a choir. Amazingly, the track not only avoids resembling a dog’s dinner, it’s also craftily catchy.
The lead single, though, is Run With the Boys, which resembles early solo Morrissey crossed with The Style Council. As unfair as unstitching the threads of each track sounds, it’s also fair to say Barât’s album is a composite of his musical education before he met Pete Doherty. Talking of his old mucker, So Long, My Lover is another Libertines echo (albeit in polished form), and though it’s doubtless about Carl’s old flame Annalisa Astarita, the sentiment "I was reckless, you were free / I took you round the world with me / so holy together / no devils could tear us apart," applies to Pete just as much. Try as he might, Barât can run, to Europe and beyond, but he will always find it hard to hide from his past.
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window