The Blinding EP
et’s face it: Pete Doherty’s become Kevin Federline. He’s more pop meta-narrative than music, more tabloid cover than album shot. Patty can put the pipe down, sure, but what are you gonna pick up instead? There goes the glare, and by now that’s all there is. So while there’s a tendency to internalize his plight—mainly because some of us actually used to like the Libertines—and feel we might well yet be cheated of something, we never had a right to assume him as granted.
Which, of course, leads us back where we belong: the music, dummy. The band’s debut Down in Albion left them open to overlooking, and deservedly so. Mick Jones was too lax with his production hand—something that worked with the two Libertines records, which one suspects, given the clean quality and ultimately forgettable tunefulness of Carl Barat’s Dirty Pretty Things debut, was due more to Barat’s control than Jones’. Albion’s songs were too long, there were too many of them, and even the good singles (“Fuck Forever”) were all chorus, no structure or innuendo. It was a hard record to sell to friends and loved ones, while easier to sell to yourself—a tinny rhythm section, myriad false starts slipping into tune, and the sense that you were hearing a band take line behind a leader they trusted but, ultimately, couldn’t understand beyond their faith. You earned your adoration, but you came easy to its faults.
So, as someone who already believes Doherty—with all of his taunts, truancies, and troubles—is the only person worth remembering from the Libertines, The Blinding EP comes as a very pleasant faith-healer. Produced by the band themselves, there’s rich texture to their bursts of guitar again. The title cut begins with purpose, with all of the concision at the start that Albion often lacked; Doherty’s interacting with the band instead of tugging them along, leading them through a fisted guitar-swell and gutterwail with one of the group’s most beautifully marred melodies to date. “Love You But You’re Green” is a peach-bruised ballad to match the beatific wonderings of “Down in Albion,” while “I Wish” finds Doherty retreating into Specials-ska mode but with a firmer sound and dubious one-offs like “I wish to God that I’d just been stabbed.” The stumble-bum rhythms of “Beg, Steal or Borrow” seep into the uncertain tempo-changes for which Doherty’s long been known—eager done split and fast’s left behind, reins-pulled-taut, gone open-gallup.
But the cut worth the buying is “Sedative.” Doherty’s always had a snaky way with melody, making you endure four minutes of huffing for twelve seconds of stadium-pull—as I said, “Fuck Forever” ain’t really anything but fall-dead chorus. “Sedative”—vaguely reminiscent of the secular gospel-joy of Blur’s “Tender,” in evocation, not sound—shows him again reaching for anthem and succeeding, gathering strength through a jangling guitar intro before the chorus begins; the band refuses to split hairs, joining in concert to Doherty’s joyous chorus: “What’s he really like now / It’s been a long long time / Since I stepped outside / Into the morning sun now / Won’t you take me on.” You hear vague thrills of aspiration, just in the stepping out, in Doherty’s voice—“Sedative” becomes “shed a tear” in his dim slur, a moment of cathartic healing in the mishearing—but more than that, you see him as the willful optimist again, a thorn sunk still in thumb, but a new romantic coming to terms with the fact that his oaths have long since been just pleas.