For detractors of The Strokes — yes, they seem to come out of the woodwork whenever a new album is released — the jabs about the New York rockers’ latest offering write themselves (i.e. Comedown Machine isn’t a Comeback Machine). But what is perplexing is the number of reviews that neglected the music and turned into savage ad hominem attacks of the Fab Five.
It’s been a while since Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, Albert Hammond Jr., Nikolai Fraiture, and Fab Moretti released what were arguably their best works in Is This It and Room On Fire. The first of the two defined a generation who oozed antipathy towards an increasingly neoliberal society and vented their frustration, some of it sexual, on tracks like ‘New York City Cops’ and ‘Take It Or Leave It’. The latter album saw them expound on their raw, unfiltered sound but with more finesse and wherewithal, cementing them as the music world’s darlings.
But suddenly, it became “uncool” to like The Strokes. Perhaps it was due to something inconsequential — maybe Julian snubbed Ryan Schrieber at a bar — but “tastemakers” (cough, cough) like Pitchfork had turned their backs on The Strokes, or rather gotten off their knees and tried to dust their prides off.
Sure, The Strokes may have suffered some soap opera-like problems of late (Angles was made with Julian emailing vocals to the rest of the band, who worked without him in the studio). But it seems like the guys have let bygones be bygones and agreed to keep things professional. Album opener, ‘Tap Out’, is rousing piece of funk that challenges the media’s authoritative tone — “Decide my past, Define my life, Don’t ask questions, Cause I don’t know why” — and manages to sound inviting and foreboding at the same time.
Seond single, ‘All The Time’, seems like a laboured attempt to reproduce the magic of their early heyday and appease naysayers, but it falls flat. The song is interesting enough, with clever chord changes, a tight solo and a vintage Casablancas verse, but the band seems better off with their new sound.
Speaking of their new direction, ‘One Way Trigger’ befuddled listeners when it was released earlier this year. It found Casablancas indulging in his passion for retro synths and even featured the frontman singing in a rare falsetto. The track wouldn’t have appeared at odds with the lead singer’s eclectic solo work, but Fraiture’s distinctive bass acted as a constant reminder that this was indeed a Strokes song, and a good one, even if it did demand an acquired taste.
‘Welcome To Japan’ is a standout that captures the certain rawness of old times with its loose rendition. Even though Casablancas has a fairly limited vocal range, the same can’t be said for his creative lyrics and how he alters the inflection of his voice to subtly evoke different emotions. And how can you not nod in agreement when the ever-sardonic Casablancas ponders, “what kind of asshole drives a Lotus?”
The Strokes don’t need to be making music, but the laughter that punctuates the end of ‘Slow Animals’ reveals that at least they’re having fun doing it. The same can’t be said for some of the miserable, sadistic critics whose writing perspective has been jaded by what seems like a hatred of the world. Besides, maybe we should all take a cue from Julian, who sings “we don’t have to know each other’s names” on ‘Tapout’ and discard the auteur theory. Listen to what you like without judging the artist’s personality (except for Chris Brown, be ruthless with that scum).
As Hov wisely said, “N*ggas want my old shit, buy my old albums“. The Strokes could echo that sentiment, but if you’re jonsin for the Fab Five of yore: