The Libertines Blow Up

After breakups, break-ins, U.K. rockers invade the U.S.

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Just as their self-titled second album is gaining momentum, it seems the most exciting band to come out of the U.K. in years may be ready for the curtain to come down. With breakups, break-ins, hard drugs and a rotating lineup, the Libertines -- co-frontmen Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, bassist John Hassall and drummer Gary Powell -- may finally be sick of it all.

Barat will admit it's hard to keep track of the band's notoriously public dramas, most of which concern the wayward Doherty whose crack and heroin addiction has forced his hiatus from the group. Not that the British press hasn't tried, giving its biggest band near-daily tabloid coverage. It's such a muddy tale that the group's U.S. press officers have taken to shrugging at queries about the Libertines' status: it's hard to take America when no one's certain that you'll be around next week.

America first met the Libertines at their triumphant performance at California's 2003 Coachella festival. Backstage with Rolling Stone, an enthused Doherty played his new compositions "Arbeit Mach Frei" and "The Ha Ha Wall," both of which ended up on the new album. Within two months, however, the group had recruited Bostonian Anthony Rossamando to replace Doherty, who had been forced to stay home due to his escalating drug addiction. While his bandmates toured without him, Doherty, in a drug haze, broke into Barat's apartment. He was arrested and eventually sentenced to a month in prison.

Following Doherty's release last October, the Libertines ended up reuniting to play a slew of heated gigs around London. They then kicked off the New Year recording their second record, reuniting with the Clash's Mick Jones, who had produced the band's debut Up the Bracket. "He's got a lot of love and understands the situation," Barat says. "We couldn't have done it with someone who didn't understand what it was to have a drug problem."

The resulting Libertines is a quick effort, with most of the album's fourteen tracks clocking in at around two and half minutes. It bustles with the live fervor the band's known for and a sporadic energy that was the result of recording in a volatile environment. Barat says they used just ten days of the two months booked due to Doherty's recurring drug problems, which proved troublesome in the confines of the studio.

"It was nasty," Barat recalls. "It was very difficult. [We were] having security there to keep the drug parties out of the studio. There were too many drugs happening and violent tantrums. I just wish it wasn't like this."

Not that Barat had expected his best friend of eight years to be clean. He admits to using drugs himself -- though not crack or heroin and "not to the extent that it clouds my objectives." But he was surprised to see Doherty's condition worsen. "I think I was misled into thinking he was going to make himself better," Barat says. "I wanted to believe it so much."

Following the studio stint, the Libertines staged a sort of "intervention" with Doherty, Barat admits in a fake-American accent. His friend promised to work out his habit: first at a London drug treatment facility in May (which failed), and then at a detox program in Thailand. "He said he was going to go to Thailand to get better, and we all paid for it," remembers Barat. "And [then he] went and fucked off to Bangkok to try the best heroin in the world." By the time Doherty had returned to London, Barat says, he "just didn't give a shit about anything." It was then, in June of this year, that the Libertines issued Doherty an ultimatum: Clean up, or don't come back. Doherty still remains out of the group. He is currently gigging around the U.K. with one of his musical side projects, a London four-piece called Babyshambles.

Meanwhile, the Libertines are currently on tour in the U.S. to promote their album, with Rossamando along as a temporary guitarist. And they're bigger in the U.K. then they ever have been, but a tired Barat says his outlook for the Libertines' future is grim.

"It isn't fun," he sighs. "Maybe you caught me on a bad day, but the only thing that keeps me going is the belief that I'm doing the right thing." His hopes for Doherty though, are more positive. "If he doesn't sort himself out, I'm going to have to come up with some sort of B plan," he says. "He's got to decide he wants to do it. Even that decision alone -- if it's genuine, I'll do anything I can to help him."

Libertines tour dates:

10/8: Minneapolis, Fine Line Music Cafe
10/9: Chicago, Tower Records
10/9: Chicago, Metro/Smart Bar
10/10: Detroit, Magic Stick
10/12: New York, Webster Hall
10/15: Toronto, Opera House
10/16: Montreal, La Tulipe
10/17: Philadelphia, Theatre of Living Arts
10/18: Boston, Paradise Rock Club
10/19: Washington, DC, 9:30 Club
10/21: Atlanta, Echo Lounge
10/22: Orlando, FL

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