The Libertines – Heart of the Matter (Stream)
by Steven Spoerl
Not a lot of new material finds release on a major holiday, though sometimes an item or two manages to slip through the cracks and arrive to little fanfare. It also affords the unique possibility to scour the previous weeks’ offerings for the small releases. In the case of the latter, two submissions made it a little easier and produced two full-lengths worth exploring in Phooey!’s latest ambitious collection songs for my little brother and Govier’s understated gem Hermit Crab. As for the former, there was a lovely short documentary on St. Vincent and another exhilarating song to be released in advance of The Libertines’ comeback album.
Normally, the attention would have fallen to Govier or Phooey!’s releases, considering the considerable magnitude of the other two acts’ recognition levels but now seemed like a good a time as any to honor the profound impact The Libertines had on shaping my musical tastes and preferences. They’re responsible for two of the best full-lengths in the past 15 years in Up the Bracket (their fiery, us-against-everyone debut) and The Libertines (their shattering us-against-each-other diarist masterpiece). If the quartet would have bowed out after their self-titled, it would have been understandable- all of the reasons for the split had been aired and confined to the record. It’s that context which makes the news of their return the second most surprising thing about their recent reunion. The first? It’s mixture of vitality and preservation of quality.
Both of those elements can be witnessed in the band’s latest single, which was quietly released earlier this afternoon. “Heart of the Matter”, like the few tracks that have already acted as teasers in Anthems for Doomed Youth‘s rollout, is a rollicking mid-tempo number that packs a deceptively emotional punch. At this stage in the band’s push back towards reclaiming their relevancy, it’s abundantly clear that the band’s treating this like so much more than a staid cash-grab attempt. All of the their recent songs have sounded heartfelt but this one sounds deeply impassioned; they’ve got more things to say and are kicking things into high gear as a sort of self-flagellation for abandoning the project the first time around.
Swinging back and forth between the band’s most effective atmosphere (bittersweet) and one that’s characteristically chaotic, “Heart of the Matter” plays out like a well-earned, albeit surprisingly late, victory lap. That being said, it doesn’t feel like a legacy statement at all- it’s far too focused and hungry to be equated to an epilogue. Once again, the band finds a way to strike the perfect complementary balance between Pete Doherty’s gift for hard-won levity and Carl Barât’s penchant for commentary and determination, with the two trading off vocal leads like its second nature.
While “Heart of the Matter” feels like an on-the-nose title considering what’s ostensibly the band’s aim, it plays out so honestly that even that winds up carrying an additional meaning. Layered meaning has always been one of the biggest pulls of The Libertines’ sensibility, nullifying the more undesirable aspects of their roguish image and revealing a startling underlying intellect. It’s an element that’s still very present in their work and “Heart of the Matter” is the best example of the band’s current era to have been released to the public. Wry, meaningful, and an unshakable statement, it’s more than enough reason to be excited to have one of the last truly great rock n’ roll bands back in our midst.
Listen to “Heart of the Matter” below and pre-order Anthems for Doomed Youth here.