All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade

All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade

In the early 2000s, few would have bet on The Libertines making it to a fourth album album at all, let alone one as robust as All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade. Intra-band strife, prison, and Pete Doherty’s well-documented drug problems seemed to have scuppered the mercurial talent shown on 2002 debut Up the Bracket and 2004’s self-titled follow-up for good. However, following 2015’s galvanizing reformation album, Anthems for Doomed Youth, All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade finds the good ship Albion coming ashore with one of the strongest sets of songs of the band’s career. On an album recorded at The Albion Rooms, the group’s studio-cum-hotel in (UK seaside town) Margate, Kent, the ramshackle charm which sometimes felt like their songs could collapse at any moment has been bolstered by something far more muscular and sturdy. Rollicking opening track “Run Run Run” lands like The Clash at their anthemic peak, while closer “Songs They Never Play on the Radio” transforms a tune Doherty has been tinkering with in various forms for years into a swooning, Beatles-esque ballad. Where Libertines songs of old sprung from a mythical vision of England conjured from Doherty and fellow singer/guitarist/songwriter Carl Barât’s imagination, here they’re more rooted in the here and now. “Mustangs” is populated by a litany of colorful characters observed around Margate, Barât singing about day-drinking mums, day-dreaming nuns, and 24/7 ne’er-do-wells over a glorious Stones-y groove. While “Merry Old England” looks at a land of discarded crisp packets and B&B vouchers from the perspective of migrants traveling to the UK looking for work. “It’s a rich tapestry,” Doherty tells Apple Music. “It’s not just about Margate, it’s about England. I don’t think the English realize how the rest of the world gazes upon us with curiosity and wonder and bafflement, really.” Read on for Doherty and Barât’s track-by-track guide. “Run Run Run” PD: “It’s a bit of a belter that one, I love it. It’s got a bit of a Squeeze thing going on.” CB: “The song doesn’t have to be about running away from your past. It’s about running because that’s what you do. It can be in terror, or it can be a thing of great elation or purpose.” PD: “It’s just how you get your kicks, baby.” CB: “Yeah. It can be processing a trauma or getting your kicks. Either way.” “Mustangs” PD: “We spent an endless amount of time trying to get this together which isn’t normally our style. At one point it had 10 verses.” CB: “It was like a Velvet Underground epic. It was my [T.S. Eliot poem] ‘The Waste Land.’ It took a lot of shuffling in the sand to get that one to settle. It’s got a summer air to it, that kind of looseness. It’s got a Lou Reed-y narrative to it about all these characters in Margate.” “I Have a Friend” CB: “That’s a topical song given it’s about war and what’s going on in Ukraine.” PD: “It’s hard to look away from that. A few of us in the band have got Russian and Ukrainian roots. It was too much for me to take, we had to sit down and talk about it which merged into ‘I Have a Friend.’ It was just a desperate cry from all the darkness and confusion of all of this. I kept saying, ‘NATO are going to step in any day, are we too old to enlist?’ I said to my wife, ‘We can’t just sit here and watch it, we’ve got to go!’ She said, ’We’ve got a two-week-old baby.’” “Merry Old England” PD: “The people who travel here and risk life and limb to come to England and try and make a life for themselves is something we spend quite a lot of time talking about. A lot of these people are trained doctors, they speak four or five languages. It’s not that I’m pro-illegal immigration, I’ve just got this thing against borders. It’s very easy to create fear and anger and hostility about people.” CB: “It’s about discussing something that’s topical. There’s no didactic approach from us. Maybe we do have opinions, but it’s just a good song.” “Man With the Melody” CB: “That’s as old as time, that song.” PD: “From back when we were in Kentish Town. We didn’t have a B&B or our own recording studio or a bar. All we had was John [Hassall, bassist]’s basement with our little amps. He’d sit there in his skintight Dairy Queen T-shirt and his cowboy boots strumming this mad little song. We were secretly jealous of it because it was so melodic. So we took it apart, stripped it down and put it back together, put our own bits in and gave it a lick of paint. It’s got this creeping, gothic, Bram Stoker-ish element to it.” CB: “That’s Gary [Powell, drummer]’s singing debut. I think it’s the first time we’ve all sung on a song and shared it like that.” “Oh Shit” CB: “It’s essentially about the proprietor of The Albion Rooms and her husband. It’s about these young people jacking in their lives and just doing something different and worlds apart. It’s that sort of romance of the road, having no regard for their own immediate safety or life past what’s just straight in front of their faces, and being in love and all the experiences that come with that.” “Night of the Hunter” PD: “There’s a lot of references to tattoos. I’ve always been fascinated by that thing of ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on the knuckles. When we play it live it really slows down and I like this idea of all these people singing along to ‘ACAB’ which stands for ‘All coppers are bastards,’ which is an old skinhead tattoo. Prison is mostly full of young men, but you always get that old lag in there and they’ve got these weird tattoos and you make the mistake of asking, ‘Oh, what do those dots mean?’ Then you’re like, ‘Oh, fuck…’ You hear some really dark stuff.” “Baron’s Claw” PD: “That was mostly born in The Albion Rooms. We were all sleeping there and trying to put the album together. I had these chords and I was playing them and Carl’s room is directly above where I was sitting. It was six or seven in the morning and I was playing it louder and louder, just hoping that it would somehow penetrate his dreams. So I opened the window and then I was playing it on the stairs. He finally came down a bit grumpy, as he tends to be in the morning, and I thought, ‘I’ll wait for him to say something…’ And he didn’t. I waited and waited and then finally I got a little ‘So, was that a new tune, then?’ [from him]. Because I don’t think he believed it was.” CB: “You’re lucky. In the old days, if you were playing outside my window I would have told you to shut the fuck up.” PD: “The song’s about this quite shameful episode in our history when we [Britain] funded the White Russians against the Bolsheviks. This guy is over there with a unit of White Russians fighting the Red Army and then comes back without a hand. Is it based on a true story? Why not? It could have happened!” “Shiver” PD: “If you did a DNA test on that song it would be 23 percent me, 25 percent American bully, a bit of sausage dog, a bit of Scottish terrier, a dash of dachshund…It went on a lot of weird deviations that song.” CB: “We were in Jamaica and we wrote a really misty-eyed ballad about 25 years of friendship and going from rack and ruin and dreams and reasons for staying alive. We cut it down and used the middle eight for ‘Shiver’ and the other song got thrown on the scrapheap. That’s how decadent art can be.” PD: “It turns out with ‘Shiver’ that we’ve actually made a half-decent pop song. That song’s had more radio play in its first month than [debut single] ‘What a Waster’ has had in 25 years.” “Be Young” PD: “The message of this song was to be young and fall in love, because we were coming out with all this depressing data about the planet’s impending doom. We wrote it in Jamaica as this hurricane was crashing through the Caribbean. We just thought, ‘Well, we’ve got all this stuff in here about being born astride a grave and the world boiling in oil, so let’s throw in a chorus about just being young and in love.’” CB: “It’s difficult to write a song like that. Jim Morrison could say, ‘I just want to get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames.’ But he died in 1971, do you know what I mean? Now, you can’t have that mentality. You can’t say, ‘Just be young and fall in love.’” PD: “A lot of people do though, a lot of them just don’t give a fuck.” CB: “And more fool them.” “Songs They Never Play on the Radio” PD: “We got that song together years ago, at the very beginning. It’s got a checkered past. It’s like an old mate who you really believed in and you’ll always have a place for him in your heart, but he just sort of seemed to fade away. But then, it turns out he’s written the jingle for the new Audi advert and he’s sitting in a fucking mansion.” CB: “The bastard.” PD: “I took it under my wing and made it all jangly and jazzy. I could never quite do it with Babyshambles and I could never quite do it on my own, so I brought it to the table for this one. And then John said, ‘Why don’t you try it like this?’ He turned it into this Beatles thing, and it completely turned it on its head. I was aghast. We wrote another verse, gave it a lick of paint and here it is.”

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