The Libertines were the soundtrack to my teenage years.
Picture me – vacant and angst-riddled, flicking my fringe to Up The Bracket and their eponymous follow-up. ‘You wouldn’t understand, Mum – Pete just gets me’.
Fast-forward to the present day, and here I am – in the crowd for their set at Glastonbury 2015. Like they’d never been away, they swaggered onto the Pyramid stage to the tribal roars of the ritualistic indies who had caught wind of their rumoured appearance. As they tore into The Delaney, I was thirteen all over again. It was really happening – I was sailing the Albion, refusing to look back into the sun – I was one of the Likely Lads! The boys were back, and they were facilitating my delight as a post-punk Peter Pan. It was disjointed, untameable, chaotic – everything you could ever want, or need, from Carl, Pete and co.
And, that is why I’m a little disappointed with Gunga Din.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate it. I mean, it’s fine. There are flashes of excellence – ‘Woke up again / to my evil twin / the mirror’s f—–g ugly and I’m sick of tired and looking at him’ is an example of Snarly Carl at his finest. The verse-to-chorus transition is great, too – a sudden switch in tempo akin to Boys In The Band. However, these moments are too few and far between – and they can’t halt Gunga’s tumble into mediocrity.
For me, it tries to be too many things – an attempt to embody everything that made them what they are. Yet it fails to capture the streetwise poeticism of Time For Heroes, or the ferocious disarray of What A Waster. It’s a musical Jack-of-all-trades – mastering nothing – and leaving the listener pining for something a little more radical. On the Grand Spectrum of Libertine, it falls awkwardly into the lukewarm-middle, despite the video’s best attempts.
As a band, The Libertines are at their most effective when their music gives you the feeling that everything is going to end in a gorgeous, unadulterated anarchy – and I just don’t get that from Gunga Din. It’s too polished, opting-out of bedlam in favour of a slightly cleaner cut. Musically, you want them to strip everything back, and lyrically, you want them to boot down the door that they seem content to only knock on during the three-and-a-half minute muse.
I reiterate, though – it’s fine, and had this been the comeback single of another band, I’d probably have felt quite differently. But if we’re being completely honest with one another, this isn’t another band, is it?
Perhaps I’m just a romantic.