If last week was about what band members do after a breakup, this week is about what the band as a whole does: they get back together. Most reunions are sad affairs that painfully telegraph a group’s age. Every once in a while you get something worth waiting for. When The Libertines reunited, the assumption was that they’d just rerecord a bunch of unreleased tracks from old sessions and call it a day. Luckily, they also added a good chunk of new tracks to the mix, some of which are unbelievably able to capture the group’s old glory. Songs like Glasgow Coma Scale Blues capitalize on Carl and Pete’s penchant for autohagiography, while still sounding fresh and exciting. Opening with jagged, squealing guitar, they’re trading off lines from the very start. Their dialogue creates the same beautiful tension as in the old days, before they launch into the end of a verse together: the only thing that kept us apart was your cold unloving heart. You can feel them singing straight at each other, the love and the hate both still present, like an updated version of all-time classic Can’t Stand Me Now. Chainsaw guitar breaks in again, keeping the song arresting and unpredictable. It’s a shockingly lively addition to The Libs’ oeuvre: a joyous sing-along, a happy reunion and a blazing rock song.
After the dissolution of The Clash, Joe Strummer took his time forming another band. Instead of rushing into a new group, he worked with the hippest independent filmmakers of the day, writing the score for Alex Cox’s Walker, appearing later in his Absolute Beginners and acting again for Jim Jarmusch on Mystery Train (as Elvis). He finally formed The Mescaleros in the late 90s, which itself came out of some film work he’d done. Clearly the group was never going to recapture the energy of The Clash, but they proved a solid and intriguing outfit. Tracks like Get Down Moses announced that Strummer still had charisma to burn. Mixing big ideas with an undeniable reggae-style groove, it’s a laudable nod to the work that made him one of the greatest rockers of all time.
The flip side to the Libertines breakup coin is Dirty Pretty Things. If Pete Doherty took all the poetry with him to Babyshambles and his solo work, then Carl Barat brought all the snearing rock and roll energy to his early work with Dirty Pretty Things. Deadwood is one of several tracks on debut Waterloo to Anywhere that addresses the breakdown of Barat’s friendship with Doherty and it certainly sounds like a track from the second half of The Libs’ eponymous album. Jagged, roguish guitar plunges you straight back into the pirate’s den, while Barat’s heavily overdubbed vocals hint at an old-fashioned, ramshackle sing-along. Full of of snotty, confident attitude, it solidifies the truth that two men were needed to produce The Libertines’ unique alchemy.
Pete Doherty had already been knocking around with Babyshambles before the total implosion of The Libertines. While they would eventually release the completely respectable and surprisingly polished album Shotter’s Nation, the group’s first release featured many we pieces that Doherty had written while still paired up with Carl Barat. One work that surely was, however, is the moody put down of Back From the Dead. Doherty swears it’s not about Barat, but we all know it is. While Doherty’s post-Libertines work has never been short on poetry is has often lacked a convincing mood. Back From the Dead is thick with it though. Lead by brilliant Paul Simonon-style bass and distant, revenant moans, the whole thing has a dark mysticism. It’s a strange vibe for a kiss off, managing to sound slightly treacherous without being directly threatening. An apocalyptic shadow hangs over it, all the way to the rattlings-of-a-deserted-ghost-town outro. With his distant, somber delivery it’s hard to tell whether Doherty is the haunted or the haunting. Either way, it makes for a compellingly eerie glimpse at a crumbling life.
With The Clash fallen apart, Mick Jones quickly looked to indulge his personal musical interests with the construction of Big Audio Dynamite. While his style was always softer than Joe Strummer, he was the main architect of The Clash’s forays into other genres, having become especially interested in hip hop after spending time in New York. After roping in buddy Don Letts, Jones started work on BAD, an avenue for him to continue indulging his experimentation. Tracks like Medicine Show are the perfect showcase for his wide-ranging ideas. It begins as a largely amiable pop song, with keyboards and drum machine front and center and heavy, lazy back beat. But as it progresses, it reaches out to try something new, then reels itself in before stretching out for another subtle experiment. Before it’s over Jones will have toyed with reggae, rockabilly, Ennio Morricone-style western flair and extensive samples, the last of which would become an element he’d incorporate often with his new band. Yet somehow the whole thing remains cohesive, with a laid back charm that floats through the song. It may lack the bite of the work Jones did with Strummer, but it has an admirable ambition and succeeds on its own merits.
What do you do after founding a seminal, post-punk act that helped usher in goth? If you’re Daniel Ash, you go in the musical opposite direction. Ash would eventually lead alternative rock progenitor Love and Rockets, but on the way there would come Tones on Tail. A Devo referencing, dance-punk, new wave outfit that dressed all in white, it was a departure from Bauhaus to say the least. Tracks like Go! showed off a jangly nervousness that emphasized movement. Jagged and lively, the track layers crunching guitar with decisive handclaps and upbeat agogo bells, then adds a robotic vocal to the mix. It’s a strange combination to be sure, but its grooves, with a compounding momentum that drives confidently the whole way through. Assured and aggressive, the song allows for no resistance.
Paul Weller had already left a mark on British culture forever with brilliant mod-revivalists The Jam. While in recent years he’s forged a respectable solo career that often hearkens back to that band, the intervening time saw him switch modes completely for the blue-eyed soul groove of The Style Council. Impressively, the band scored several hits that are firmly embedded into the British psyche. But a kinder, gentler sound didn’t necessarily give way to more pop friendly subject matter. Come To Milton Keynes is every bit as embittered as Jam tracks like Eton Rifles and Down in the Tube Station at Midnight. Dialing back his vocal aggression, Weller sounds more like Elvis Costello when he’s playing nice. If you weren’t listening closely, you could be forgiven for the thinking the song was about sauntering down the boardwalk, with its gentle swing interlude and uptempo prance. Of course, catch even a line of the lyrics and it becomes clear that Weller is taking a vitriolic piss at Tatcher’s England. Instead, he’s wrapped the message in a package that those he’s firing at might accidentally stumble across, tapping their toes at a vicious takedown at their expense. For Weller, a step further into the mainstream was also an opportunity at absolute subversion, upon which he capitalized fully.
“May the road rise to you”
It’s unlikely enough that any musician will end up in a band with any lasting impact. But following up a great band with anything other than an utter disappointment is almost impossible. John Lydon wasted no time moving on after the implosion of The Sex Pistols, founding Public Image Ltd and releasing the band’s first album only a year after Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. The group has seen surprising success, both in the quality of its work and the length of time it has endured. Tracks like Rise ensure it’s legacy as a band that had something important to add to the conversation. The song mixes standard 80s alternative guitar and drum work with John Lydon’s still urgent and edgy vocals. Addressing torture, The Troubles and Apartheid, it has a discernible folk influence, both in its sound and its message. Positively channeling some of the fervor that he brought to The Sex Pistols, Lydon advises that “anger is an energy” while hoping that the journey ahead eases for those fighting injustice. It’s the type of overtly political but decidedly pop-y track that could never work today, but seemed positively revolutionary at the time. We’re far too jaded now for such an earnest, hopeful work. In fact, I’d even venture to say we don’t deserve it. Quite a turnaround from a man who was one of the original champions of anarchic misery.
For his final regular runway presentation with Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane again looked to California music. The clothes themselves channeled Courtney Love’s grungy princess attire mixed with Kate Moss in classic Glastonbury mode. The tune, The Mirror by Damaged Bug (aka Thee Oh Sees John Dwyer) is a paranoid, synthy, psych-influenced beauty. At times paper thin, at times squelching and broken, it’s a track that’s both a perfectly obvious pick and a choice totally singular to this era of Saint Laurent.
I’m going to use the next few days to mourn the end of the Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent era, including his runway soundtracks. He didn’t always stick to hip young Cali bands, choosing the angular dance punk of New Yorkers Liars for his Spring/Summer 2014 collection. The propulsive predecessors to New Rave reworked Mr Your on Fire Mr specifically for the runway. The confident, 80s inspired clothes got an extra kick in the ass from the strutting, guitar-driven standout.
Check out the original and the reworked runway version: