‘Glory Days’ as the opener to Carl Barat‘s latest LP, Let It Reign, is reminiscent of the blues of The Rolling Stones, coupled with an impassioned delivery á la Strummer. Barat is proud of this assault on your eardrums, you can tell, and yet it too easily evokes a coke-snorting scene from a Scorsese film. It’s very 1973, very main street, very exiled. This is time traveller’s music; a collection of sounds thrown brazenly onto an overly familiar canvas that opens things up, but ends before the middle eight could be written.
So there’s a sense that the songs on this LP are incomplete, but that might be because Carl Barat is in a rush to make his mark on the music world that little bit more indelible, his head no doubt betraying a few silver hairs as he strives to articulate our modern age of austerity and how it is beginning to take its toll. He’s content on this record, but beginning to grow a tad pissed off. Such is the fall-out of age. He’s also happy to display his influences, but who after all is he after The Libertines era? Let It Reign attempts to explain.
With a Leonard Cohen-style delivery fused with a Lydon bark, he’s still without the foil of Doherty, whose absence on this record is still felt; it’s a bit like Torvill without Dean, Flanagan without Allen or, to stretch the simile even further, Lennon without McCartney (which as it turned out was no bad thing).
And so to paper over this fact as the 10-track LP unfolds, the production of Joby J Ford of The Bronx is very much to the fore with Barat’s voice and muscular guitar playing hitting you squarely between the eyes.
‘Victory Gin’ is spoken through a mouth full of Camel Light smoke and opens with a cornet which is soon killed by the cacophony of power chords, while ‘Summer In The Trenches’ riffs too cozily on ‘Lust For Life’ by Iggy Pop, but it has the bounce and sparkle of The Kinks.
Melody arrives by the bucket load in ‘A Storm Is Coming’, which references William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’. It’s wall-of-sound stuff, the sound of spring, a straight-ahead tune without avant-garde ambition but all the better for it; it’s punchy like The Jam before Weller grew tired of band democracy, and if ‘Saturday’s Kids’ was the call, then this is the response. It’s a song about epiphany, about realising that in embracing this brave new world of technological advancements, we’ve all been sold a pup.
And is it a call to arms? The answer is yes: more bands should be tackling the dead-time zeitgeist, so bravo to Barat for re-politicising popular music. It’s been a long time coming and may more bands follow in this song’s wake.
The LP’s best track is ‘Beginning To See’, whose acoustic overture is soon washed by orchestral strings which tells of Barat’s maturation as a songwriter. It’s delicate and loving, with a line like “We’ve dirty hands, but still our hearts are clean” sung with clear eyes. An F#m chord hammers out the opening to ‘March Of The Idle’ as Barat bellows his disgust at our passive and defeated generations, which is followed by the LP’s only filler, ‘We Want More’. But with the simple crowd-pleaser, ‘The Gears’, Barat coasts. And that’s dangerous because passé he should not want to become.
The closing track, ‘Let It Rain’, ends on a sweetened, introspective note with Barat declaring, “I can’t change who I am”, which is fair enough, because this reviewer remains convinced that Barat still has that classic album in him, and that ‘Let It Reign’ is a stepping stone on his way to it.
Let It Reign is released on 15th February via Cooking Vinyl Ltd.