You can waste all day debating whether or not a band that announced its official split just three years ago, having produced only two albums, is really deserving of a ‘Best Of’. Alternatively, you could shut up and listen to the songs that saved your life.
From the wonderfully prophetic What A Waster to What Became of the Likely Lads? (a question we can, now, at least partly answer), Time For Heroes: The Best Of The Libertines carries you through songs that helped to define the new century and proved that doomed romance and great guitar riffs will always stand the test of time.
Of course it’s easy to argue about what’s missing from this package: Music When The Lights Go Out and Don’t Be Shy, the closest indicators of the beautiful, fragile romance that Down In Albion could have delivered with tighter production values, or Campaign of Hate – surely the song that should be anthem of the current Love Music Hate Racism vs BNP campaign to force music down schoolchildren’s throats, whether they want it or not? And where are the Good Old Days (were there really no good old days)?
Of course you want more. It’s not enough to have only the beautifully tender end of Tell The King, the short sharp shock of Mayday, the blunt reminder to kick back at the world of Can’t Stand Me Now, is it? Couldn’t they just have released this as double album, you may ask, if rather than being a cynical cash-in, it really is aimed at young ‘uns who don’t have Up The Bracket and The Libertines already? Maybe, but would you have denied them What A Waster and Don’t Look Back Into The Sun?
Should this have been more of a ‘singles and rarities’, then? A Libertines’ Still? The blistering singles interspersed with demos and unreleased nuggets from Legs 11, the Chicken Shack Sessions or any one of the dozen other bootlegs you also own already? Black Boy Lane, for example, or The Lust of The Libertines? Their cover of Another Girl Another Planet? Of course it could have been, but what would be the point? If you like what you hear on Time For Heroes you can find all of those easily enough. The Libertines were nothing if not generous with their music.
And so give this album the credit it deserves. You don’t have to buy it if you don’t want to but maybe the kid who will is a kid who doesn’t own all these songs in eighteen different formats already. Maybe they were too young when What A Waster first hit the airwaves. Maybe they’ve discovered The Libertines from working backwards from Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things, or even The Holloways and The Pigeon Detectives. Maybe they’re hearing some of these songs for the first time.
Either way, who cares? This is an album of thirteen incredible songs, shot through with a sense that when this music was being made it was both finite and timeless. If The Libertines had lasted for ever, they wouldn’t have been The Libertines, would they? Middle-aged, grey and paunchy, the call and response of Can’t Stand Me Now would have been a travesty.
Live fast, make two beautiful albums and leave a Best Of to die for. That’s a formula for rock ‘n’ roll success. Look at that cover: not the protective tenderness of The Libertines at the end of their power but a band at the height of it, strong and defiant. What Became Of Forever? Quite a lot, actually. It’ll remember The Libertines as one of the most important bands of the 21st Century. That’s something to put on your list of things you said you’d do tomorrow.