Three years on from the spectacular implosion of The Libertines, and there remains a strong suspicion that, like all great partnerships, the old magic is only able to be recreated when the main players are back together.
Babyshambles, even without the massive tabloid media circus that follows Pete Doherty around, are the very definition of inconsistency, while Dirty Pretty Things‘ debut album Waterloo To Anywhere was packed with so much filler it could have been shipped off to a foreign country with ‘fragile’ marked on it.
That debut album however, did contain enough moments to encourage the thought that Barat could well be the one with the promising long-term future. Deadwood, Doctors And Dealers and You Fucking Love It were all swaggering, sizzling masterpieces, full of venom and energy that recalled The Libertines’ golden days. Admittedly, there were more than a few slightly aimless numbers on there, but it was a promising sign.
It’s a promise that Romance At Short Notice singularly fails to deliver upon, sadly. Gone is the spark and swagger of those stand-outs from Waterloo To Anywhere, replaced by an oddly listless, lethargic feel. Barat sounds as impassioned as ever, especially on the more upbeat tracks such as Hippy’s Son, but the songs are a pale shadow of what’s gone before.
Buzzards And Crows makes for a lively opener, although the eerie fairground noises prove to be slightly irritating. The lyrics seem to be full of disillusion, talking of the titular buzzards and crows “pecking eyes of a scene self-obsessed”. Tired Of England revisits old themes of love for one’s country and city, but is hamstrung by lyrics which verge on self-parody, mentioning the Queen “sat on her throne of bingo cards and chicken wings”, and a presumably non-intentionally hilarious line about the state of the roofs in Clerkenwell.
Plastic Hearts too is pretty weak, exuding a fake jauntiness that evokes the horrors of lumpen pub-rock such as The Fratellis. Chinese Dogs too is another dud – melodically, it’s a nod back to the early days of the Libs, but the vocals are tired and bored sounding, ending in Carl bizarrely mumbling “you look like Mata Hari” for some reason.
Thankfully, there are reminders throughout the album that Barat hasn’t completely lost it. The North is an affecting ballad, completely different to anything the band have ever done before, with a string section underscoring the delicate acoustic guitar. Best Face is the song that most recalls that first album (musically, it’s a dead ringer for Last Of The Small Town Playboys), a rare moment where all the chemistry clicks back into place, and the band sound vital once more.
Truth Begins too has a nicely world-weary air to it, especially in the wistful refrain of “the sun will shine again tomorrow”. If there had been more moments like this, then Romance At Short Notice could have been a truly great album. Instead, it’s mediocre, indie-by-numbers – which really isn’t what we expect from the man who’s been a pivotal figure of the scene in the last few years.
Given Barat’s previous history, Romance At Short Notice is a huge disappointment. It’s a passable enough indie guitar album, but this is a genre that requires shaking up by a truly revolutionary record. This, unfortunately, isn’t that record.