The Strokes have reached album number five. I’m not entirely sure anyone’s more surprised at this fact than Strokes fans themselves. I say this counting myself among those ranks, though I’ve done more head scratching than bopping to the beat in more recent years.
Julian Casablancas seems almost like a falsetto-voiced (though it didn’t used to be that way) Marlon Brando of 21st century new wave revival. To find his genius you have to dig and sometimes you find diamonds, other times coal.
More often than not on their last two albums, though, The Strokes have been mining the middle road. They’re not considered bad albums necessarily, but they’re also not exactly breaking any new ground with their music either.
When you’re a throwback band five albums in…that’s a problem.
Such is the case with first single ‘All the Time,’ another by-the-numbers kowtow to fans and to alternative radio. It’s a number so rote that DJ’s and remaining radio programmers can proclaim The Strokes ‘are back.’ Well, it’s only been two years since Angles folks. An album that, after a six-year hiatus, left many…underwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong – there are moments when the band hit their stride on this album and even within each track. They are talented musicians and have their own distinct sound within the niche they’ve set for themselves. Opener ‘Tap Out,’ belongs either in a disco rollerskating rink or on the soundtrack of a “Karate Kid,’ film.
Tracks like the ethereal ’80’s Comedown Machine’ with its strains of The Beatles and the Beach Boys harmonizing backing vocals allow the band to break out of the new wave mold. This kind of track, followed by ’50/50′ – an obvious nod to a mixture of new wave punk juxtapose with one another nicely.
When those 80’s ballad’s are attempted – as is the case on ‘Partners in Crime,’ sure it’s a bit schmaltz, but it also kind of works. Nor would it be out of place in a John Hughes film. This track is also followed by a much more up-tempo tune in ‘Chances,’ where Albert Hammond, Jr and Nick Valensi remind us of both Cheap Trick and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
If the effervescent mid-tempo-ness of ‘Happy Ending,’ had closed the album instead of the over-indulgent ‘Call It Fate Call It Karma’ perhaps I would be less off-put. Casablancas’ proclivities permeate other tracks too. The first half of ‘One Way Trigger’ – I mean…if someone can understand what the heck the lyrics are before the chorus without reading a lyric sheet, please tell me.
The band is not touring or doing any press in support of this album. This begs the question – are the band just going through contractual obligations at this stage? The follow-up question is who are they trying to please at this point? Their fans or themselves? To say a new generation of fans are being cultivated with this relatively unpublicized and unheralded release would be unreasonable. It also speaks volumes to their lack of interest in sales or any financial gain. They still sound well-oiled enough to pass off an album to the label and let it sail on its own terms.
Maybe I’m questioning something not worth mentioning. However, it’s an interesting side note considering a six-year break and band members solo albums and side projects and then coming back and looking at the discography post-break. Where they go from here is really anyone’s guess.