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WPGM Recommends: Carl Barât and The Jackals – Let It Reign (Album Review)

Born out of Carl Barât’s frustration at being a one man troubadour, in 2014 he set about recruiting a brand new band in which he had no previous or personal relationships with any of the members. Via the internet and a lengthy audition process, The Jackals where born. It’s almost impossible to go in to an album in which Carl is associated with and not almost instantly bring up his former (and maybe future) glories from his days in The Libertines.

When The Jackals were being constructed, The Libertines had no certain future. 2010 saw the band perform a couple of shows but no real substance came from this. Fast forward a few months from the announcement of The Jackals, The Libertines have appeared to have got their act together and headlined Hyde Park, a glorious home coming tour, an extensive European tour, signed a record deal with EMI and Carl’s old partner in crime Peter Doherty, for the first time in a long while, actually looks healthy after a 3-month stint at a rehab centre in Thailand all in the space of six months.

It should really come as a surprise with a band like The Libertines that such a whirlwind appears from nothing. That was always their USP. Expect the unexpected. This album Let It Reign then has been touted as somewhat of a warm up for the real deal when the old ship of Albion continues on its sail with a new Libertines album. This is unfair on Barât & the Jackals who throughout this album demonstrate that this isn’t no warm up.

Album opener and the first music released by the band, “Glory Days“, lays the cards on the table straight away. A Squelching guitar line played over a sea shanty rhythm blasts you back straight away. It sounds like early scouse oddballs The Coral on a diet of cigs and booze playing in a dingy London basement full of dirt and squalor. It’s a call to arms from Barât and his gang. You’re either in on you’re out, with us or against us. It’s a ‘Last gang in Town’ mentality that has always suited Barât best. It’s a theme that to makes the backbone of most of the album.

Next up is “Victory Gin” – a Barât by number’s song. That’s not an insult; in fact it’s the opposite. This is what Carl’s other, other band, Dirty Pretty Things should have sounded like on their second album. Unfortunately somewhere along the line, he stopped writing songs like this and it all fell away leading to a patchy output after Waterloo To Anywhere. “Victory Gin” carries on the theme of last gang in town and picks up on the very familiar British, war influenced romanticism that Barât & Doherty have both incorporated in all of their works. A confrontational call to anyone who has doubted him or his band, “we are not afraid of anyone, I defy anyone to tell me I am wrong“.

Summer In The Trenches” starts as a fast paced bouncy ditty with Barât seemingly denouncing a past comrade on what was and what could have been. Talk of sailing ships not coming into dock and sobering up to see how the land actually lies. It leads one to speculate on who the subject of these words are. The chorus has the band build it up in a short burst and release as Barât lets out his anguish ending with “let’s have some fun“.

First single proper from the album “A Storm Is Coming” continues on all the above themes and is a great example of what Barât has done best throughout his whole career. Great indie anthems, laying down a verse full of questions and a sense of what could have been, followed by a chorus of monster size with a twinge of vulnerability. Again The Jackals are not reinventing the wheel, and stray into well covered territory. But it doesn’t sound dull or dated because Barât sings it from deep within.

March Of The Idle” starts with a simple distorted guitar riff and builds and builds for a minute and a half, until a thrilling call and response chorus which should sound cheap and nasty but does the opposite and manages to pent all that mount up tension into a shouted mantra, “this is the march of the idle“. Elsewhere “War of the Roses” takes it cues from The Great Escape era Blur and is unashamed of such a thing. Horns on the chorus make this the most joyous song on the album.

As the squiggling guitar and the horns end, next track “The Gears” kicks in and takes the album up to breakneck speed. Heavy guitars and short sharp phrasing give this song a punkie edge that Barât hasn’t visited for a while. Not too dissimilar to Libertines track “Arbiet Macht Frei“, it’s quick, in your face and tough. Last track “Let It Rain” strips away the heavy guitars and bares the bones of The Jackals. Taking us down a path a joyous melancholy, it’s a fitting ending for the album. It sounds as if Barât has got a lot off his chest over the ten songs on Let it Reign.

Although Carl Barât and The Jackals don’t stray in to unfamiliar territory, this is an album that Barât would not have been able to do with The Libertines or Dirty Pretty Things. More than anything, this sounds like Carl reminding himself of what he is great at. Tough, gutsy, quintessential British rock’n’roll. For the first time since Dirty Pretty Things debut Waterloo to Anywhere, Barât sounds like he’s got something to fight for, a fire back in his belly.

With all that said, it seems such a shame that this is mostly going to be taken as a warm up for The Libertines, when it’s an album that deserves much more time and attention than that. The one problem that may not help the cause is the fact that it lacks a killer single. For me, this makes the album more coherent, but may just hinder that chance it may need. From whichever view you take, you can’t help either way but to be excited that Barât is back on form. Let It Reign is available on iTunes now, purchase it here.

Words by Jake Bates // Edited by Ayo Adepoju

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