Dirty Pretty Things

Romance at Short Notice

Remember how about five years ago you were sprawled across your friend’s sofa back in the suburbs when the video for ’Up the Bracket’ came on MTV2 and the hot dancing girls and the boys who managed to look cool in tight clothes made you stop dressing like some punk clown? Just before you started getting the train to London every weekend and ended up paying that mulleted divorcee £70 a week for the privilege of a boxroom and his spare, soiled mattress? Well, this is for the people who are still wasting time back on sofas in Slough and Epsom and for whom the lure of that brief but brilliant initial burst wasn’t enough. And if Up the Bracket wasn’t enough, then Romance at Short Notice sure as hell isn’t going to be.

Unfortunately, those that did heed the clarion call were always the sort of person who’d decide their life was in need of total overhaul every time they saw a new video they liked on MTV2, so 99 per cent of them have, by now, moved on to something else and are probably having more fun than the members of the Libertines-aping bands like The Paddingtons and The Others they seemed to so adore back in the day. When was the last time you saw Dominic Masters on the front cover of the NME? And when was the last time you saw him shuffling down Brick Lane with big, black holes for eyes and clothes that hadn’t been washed for six months? Exactly. So, what you end up with is four men in leather jackets " including three former Libertines " playing covers of The Jam and The Kinks to a dwindling, disinterested horde of former Libertines fans. Throw in Didz Hammond, who’s looking chubbier and hairier on this record’s sleeve than he did when he was playing bass for The Cooper Temple Clause, and you have the essence of Dirty Pretty Things.

Admittedly there are a couple of fresh twists. There are times when band leader Carl Barat definitely sounds angrier than he ever has before, though it’s hard to detect why " when he pulls out his mongrel growl, as he does on ’Hippy’s Son’ and ’Best Face’, it seems to be in order to rail at the sexual, chemical and violent gluttony of life circa 2008 (“I am a hippy’s son / I’m into porn and guns / I’m virile, fertile, I scream when I come” and “This nightclub’s still shit, but be wary of the gypsy boy you’re mounting” respectively) He sounds a bit like Joe Strummer choking on bees, which is commendable too, until tracks like ’Come Closer’ saunter into view and Barat sounds ready for The Mescaleros. It’s as if he’s given up already. Where’s your fire, boy?

In a gutter, a squat or a hovel-house party somewhere in Zone 2, in all probability. For all the boys-in-a-band bluster of Romance at Short Notice, it’s infinitely harder to be a boy in a band when all your fans have started listening to tropical, post-ironic aquadub (and/or Animal Collective) and your perfect foil is, well, huffing at foil fumes. While the attempts to siphon off some of Strummer’s oil show a desire to dirty up his band’s sound " and it is Barat’s band, even if drummer Gary Powell does sterling work behind the kit " and move on from the tepid pop-punk of Dirty Pretty Things’ debut, Barat’s always been more suited as Robin to someone else’s Batman and that someone, as inevitable as it sounds, is Pete Doherty. Without Doherty, Barat is too clean; without Barat, Doherty is too dirty. The Dirty Pretty Thing seems to acknowledge as much here, ’Faultines’ yet another plea for reunion with lyrics that address the band’s fans as “pilgrims” whose “conjecture| slides on the deck” (a reference to “the good ship Albion” the pair sought to sail to the idyll of ’Arcadia’ before one or the other turned mutinous). “Why oh why can’t we change things? This is destroying us inside,” Barat goes on to implore, for once admitting awareness of Doherty’s gaping absence, though ultimately all that does is betray Barat as a man lost in his own memories, not noticing that those “pilgrims” all jumped ship a long time ago.

There’s a suspicion that Barat can work his way through this mess to the gold of a good-again album, but for now he and his Dirty Pretty Things remain lost in transition, ladrockers wholly undeserving of the attention they receive if it weren’t for the past but struggling to imagine what the future might look like. Cut the rigging loose and you might drift into warmer waters, but the way the wind’s blowing starvation and ruin seem for now the more likely destinations.

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