Revisiting The Libertines’ debut album Up The Bracket as it turns 20

Virgin Radio

14 Oct 2022, 13:12

Carl Barât and Peter Doherty, and the cover art for album Up The Bracket.

Credit: Getty / Rex

It’s been two decades this month since The Libertines released their debut album, Up the Bracket. The four-piece’s first record landed in October 2002, and was met with acclaim from critics and fans alike.

In the slipstream of the massive success of US band The Strokes, The Libertines spearheaded the garage rock revival in the UK. The fourpiece - made up of vocalists/guitarists Carl Barât and Peter Doherty, bassist John Hassall and drummer Gary Powell - signed with Rough Trade records at the end of 2001, after which the two frontmen rented a flat together in Bethnal Green. Dubbed The Albion Rooms, the flat would be the setting for many early gigs.

The album was preceded by single, What a Waster. The expletive-heavy, fan-favourite track did not appear on the album upon its release, but showed up on the 2003 reissue, and on various overseas releases. 

Also arriving before the band’s debut record was its title-track. The Libertines’ second single, and first to be lifted from the album, told the tale of a crime on the streets of London.

The single was a good indicator of what was to follow, as the subject-matter of the first album from the likely lads dealt with daily existence in old Albion; debauched, booze-soaked, romanticised stories of life, love and violence, weaving slang and colloquialisms through poetic lyrics.

For example, the album’s title, Up The Bracket alludes to a phrase used by English comedian Tony Hancock, of whom Doherty is a big fan. It is a slang term meaning a punch in the throat.

The cover art is based on an image of riot police during the Argentine economic crisis at the turn of the century. 

The second single to be lifted from Up The Bracket was Time For Heroes. The song is based on Doherty's experiences, and of police brutality at the London May Day Riots in 2000.

The first Libertines album was recorded and produced by Clash legend, Mick Jones. During the recording of the LP, the band had become fractious, at least in part due to Doherty’s apparently increased drug use. Despite the issues experienced in the studio, the record sounded great, and was praised by critics upon its release. 

Pitchfork described the LP as: “an unruly and triumphant monster of an album,” and said that “rarely is it less than blissfully entertaining.”

The Guardian said: “Their effervescent debut suggests they may outlive the bluster. Up The Bracket unexpectedly sees the band follow a British lineage of the Small Faces, Kinks, Smiths and Buzzcocks.”

And the record’s appeal remained. In 2007, the same newspaper wrote: “Up the Bracket remains the most influential and important British album since its release. Maybe of the decade, even. It's not the best, but in terms of cultural impact it has yet to be surpassed.”

NME placed the album - which also featured single I Get Along - at number ten in a list of the greatest British albums ever, while Rolling Stone put it at number 61 on its list of the 100 Greatest Debut Albums of All Time.

With Up The Bracket now celebrating its 20th anniversary, The Libertines are releasing a Super Deluxe Edition, which will be a remaster of the original record, and will also include 65 previously unreleased recordings, with original demos, radio sessions and live tracks. 

The album will be released in multiple formats via Rough Trade on 21st October.

The band followed Up The Bracket with 2004’s self-titled sophomore album, which in part chronicled the complicated relationship between frontmen Doherty and Barât, after the former had burgled his band-mate’s flat and served time in prison. 

The Libertines played their final show for over five years in Paris in December 2004, with Doherty and Barât then playing in their own bands, Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things after that. 

The Libertines reformed in 2010 and released their third album, Anthems for Doomed Youth, in 2015.

Peter Doherty joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky recently. Check out his interview.

Earlier this year, The Libs toured the UK to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Up The Bracket, they are set to continue their tour in Europe next week.