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Rarely has sin demanded its wages--or an advance on its wages, anyway--quite so promptly as in the case of the Libertines. No sooner had the hype crested beneath these London boys' cocky debut, Up the Bracket, than guitarist and singer Pete Doherty succumbed to a messily public heroin and crack habit. The UK music press has tagged the band "the British Strokes," but New York's sublimely tight-assed formalists would sooner shop at the Gap than countenance the Libertines' slovenly, prickly Johnny Thunders riffs. If that label was off-base to start with, though, it's borderline nonsense in light of the band's desperately chaotic follow-up, The Libertines (Rough Trade). The mistuned guitars of Doherty and second front man Carl Barat still cross paths at perfectly unexpected moments, but their trajectories seem more accidental than calculated, and in 42 minutes and change the band mangles two decades of British guitar pop: "Last Post on the Bugle" sounds like the Jam at its scrappiest, minus Paul Weller's working-class righteousness, "The Man Who Would Be King" like primo Smiths, minus Morrissey's manipulative self-involvement. The album closes with a triptych that invigorates the language of intervention ("You just pretend there isn't a problem") with an urgency that's too nakedly regretful to feel self-mythologizing. Even the songs about failed love ("Can't Stand Me Now," "Music When the Lights Go Out") end up sounding like songs about reconciliation between bandmates--and in his singing Barat displays a depth of tenderness and empathy you'd never expect from a pretty boy whose friend's dissolution has made a mess of his career. Anthony Rossomando of Boston's Damn Personals, who filled in on second guitar when the band came through town last year, is back again in Doherty's spot. Radio 4 open. Saturday 9, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $15, 18+. The Libertines also play a free in-store Saturday afternoon at 2:30 at Tower Records, 2301 N. Clark, 773-477-5994.

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