Cracked-Up Egos

Carl Barat settles a score with Dirty Pretty Things

Pete Doherty's continuing "success" is one of the most depressing rock 'n' roll spectacles of the past decade (a steep list to top). The former frontman for U.K. darlings the Libertines is little more than a B-list junkie propped up by international tabloids, Weekend at Bernie's-style, a dead weight slumped on the shoulders of the entertainment industry who can't escape being the life of the party. Doherty gets nabbed for drugs or squirts blood on a canvas and he gets more paparazzi play then the phantom of baby Suri. He bumbles around his Libertines afterlife (aka the band Babyshambles), and somehow warrants the kind of coverage most groups would kill to shrug off. Rolling Stone recently featured Doherty as possessing a cooked omelet for brains. The music landscape must be pretty grim if broken-down crack addicts are the best rock stars magazine money can buy.

Luckily, there's a bright side to the Libertines story, and that's Carl Barât. He was the other half of its songwriting team, the one who steadfastly took that band on a U.S. tour in 2004 when Doherty couldn't hack the job. For most of 2005, Barât avoided the spotlight, crafting a real rock career (and not just its self-destructive idiosyncrasies). The result is the debut of Barât's new act, Dirty Pretty Things, and its impressive half-hour of hits, Waterloo to Anywhere — a positive step in refocusing talk of the late Libertines back toward its musicians.

Libertines records contained notable songs of puppy love peered at through pint glasses — loose mod pop that carried the vibe of a tortured crooner who could topple from the barstool any second. Dirty Pretty Things is drastically different. It's a group — comprising former Libertines Gary Powell and Anthony Rossomando, as well as Didz Hammond from Cooper Temple Clause — that sounds uncompromisingly confident, at the top of its game. Waterloois the soundtrack of sweet revenge (for the wreckage of the Libertines) through aplomb. It's the record you wished the Strokes had the balls to knock out instead of sloping further toward that noncommittal pretty-boy aesthetic, a complement to Franz Ferdinand's precision pop, just as cheery but minus the cheeky. In short, it's one of the peppiest pop imports so far this year.

Dirty Pretty Things stand above the wreckage.
Kevin Westerberg
Dirty Pretty Things stand above the wreckage.

Barât is a bold instigator, flicking barely concealed burns at Doherty and his flock as nonchalantly as if he were tossing cigarette butts into the gutter. On "Bang Bang You're Dead," Barât taunts, "What did you expect/ To lay it on my head ... Bang bang, you're dead/ Always so easily lead." Other tracks are populated by "Blood Thirsty Bastards," "The Enemy," and "Dead Wood," as Barât slags off the groupies and zombies "hatched from their own lies." The upbeat "Doctors and Dealers" offers perhaps the most direct hit (in both senses of the word), as Barât targets "crackpot quacks with cracked up egos/ ... Collecting junk that we don't need, no."

Whatever feelings Barât has about the past, he comes off unafraid of the future in Dirty Pretty Things, and more playfully sharp than spite-ridden. With literate allusions, he observes fame's landmines while leaping beyond them; no time to explode about your letdowns when you've adopted the pace of spunky punk band. Forget Kate Moss' former partner in coke; Barât has reinvented himself as a real star on the U.K. pop walk of fame — no shedding of blood, sweat, or tears required.

 
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