Feature // The Libertines’ classic ‘Up The Bracket’ turns 10
The Libertines’ Up The Bracket, ten years old on the 14th October this year, represented a watershed moment in the development of British indie music. Not only is it one of the most thrilling British debut albums of all time, it identified its authors with a lineage of great British guitar groups, dating back to the Stones and Kinks via The Clash, The Jam and Oasis. It also influenced and provided a marker for other British bands in the following decade, encouraging them to take their cue from their surroundings rather than from American artists. Successful artists such as Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Kasabian, The Vaccines, Razorlight and The Enemy all owe Up The Bracket a sizeable debt.
The album’s release had been preceded by the brilliant single, ‘What A Waster’, that edged into the UK Top 40 Singles chart with virtually no promotion or advertising. What Up The Bracket did, though it only achieved a chart peak of #35, was to convert the hype into a phenomenon. Each subsequent single achieved a higher chart position than the last. Hastily recorded and produced under the guidance of ex-Clash guitarist Mick Jones, it exudes swagger and confidence from the start. Opening trio ‘Vertigo’, ‘Death On The Stairs’ and ‘Horrorshow’ are dispatched in a ramshackle yet focussed charge that barely pauses for breath. The singles ‘Time For Heroes’ and ‘Up The Bracket’ still sound fresh and vital. ‘The Boy Looked At Johnny’ and ‘The Good Old Days’ have an Ian Dury-esque quality to them, and ‘The Boys In The Band’ is a sleazy, fun knees-up. Even the clumsy acoustic number ‘Radio America’ can be forgiven purely on the strength of its charm. The B-sides associated with this era are also excellent, as well as the non-album single ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ which followed in early 2003.
Sales and reputation accumulated as praise spread via the internet and word of mouth, in the tradition of other great British albums such as The Stone Roses and The La’s, in the process building up an extremely devoted and enduring fanbase. More importantly, it gave British indie and guitar music a much-needed shot in the arm. It is easy to forget that the scene had recently been dominated by plodding, worthy bands such as Starsailor and Travis. Up The Bracket was a romantic, doomed, ‘us against the world’ vision that was utterly compelling for those of us who wanted a bit more authenticity and substance in our music. In many ways, it did for British music what The Strokes’ classic Is This It had done for American music the year before. The biggest tribute one can pay to it is that it is still as popular today and provokes fond memories and discussion ten years on. Rumours of a permanent reunion after the brief comeback in 2009 have been persistent, but Up The Bracket and its charmingly flawed self-titled follow-up are the Libertines’ true legacy. Should they risk ruining it?
Words : Ed Biggs