The Libertines

Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

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Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 is not only the Libertines' first, long-overdue retrospective, but also their first widely available release. (Their two vintage LPs appeared on cassette and Dutch import, in the era of scarce indie labels.) Finally, all can hear how incredible they were. Rarely has a band with such clean guitars played so damn hard with such dynamics; recent memories of punk and post-punk were unseen hands behind this original, Cincinnati Libertines' furious but spiky attack. And it's Walter Hodge's songwriting, spirited vocals, and smart but quietly heartrending lyrics that remain their astounding elements. Sweet, simple, unaffectedly poetic, and sincere without being wimpy -- he sings too aggressively -- few have conveyed such wry, everlasting regret ("Reunion," "Too Bad it's Raining," "Everybody Wants to Be My Sister," "Voices From the Past," and the devastating "Bad Memories Burn"), deadpan self-mockery (the hilarious ode to doomed touring, "Mile Markers"), soul-searching bewilderment (the fabulous "Her"), and even quiet optimism ("Love Lottery"). Bolstered by some of the tightest snap-hooks around -- with a tiny, tangy tinge of twang taken from gut-bucket blues, R&B, roots-rock, and hard country -- these songs still hit hard, stay for dinner, and make no signs of leaving once you hear them. The unassuming but energized Hodge and cool-hand Jimmy Davidson keep the guitars twisting and ripping, at speeds that challenge such intricate picking ("Something in the Water," "Swayback," "Writer's Block"), bassist Randy Cheek (later of Ass Ponys) and his trebly licks are a secret weapon, while drummers Joe Hamm and then Greg Blanton play by the seats of their shorts. Just for the monumental opener, "Bad Memories Burn," from 1988's overwhelming Tilt-a-Whirl, the sardonically but in-truth-accurately-titled Greatest would be a must. That 20 other flavors of its awesome blueprint follow, is enough to crown this collective the great unknown band of their time.

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