Updated: Dec 11, 2020
It’s intriguing when we transcend into a new music period as the years go by, and there, without doubt, will be a band so potent, so compelling that they can encapsulate a whole movement; ok, they may not be to everyone’s taste, but even the harshest critic can’t deny that these artists are a vital piece of the jigsaw. There are many to mention, from Elvis to Sonic Youth, and in more recent times (hmmm, 25 years ago now) Oasis.
After the Brit Pop period had come to its natural end, an unusual thing occurred. In terms of record sales, bands like Coldplay and Travis started to sell and sell shed loads. Coldplay’s first two albums, Parachutes and Rush of Blood to the Head, are undeniably beautiful works, and these acts appealed to America as they were not so U.K. orientated, but it did give a slight period of calmness, quiet and limbo… until 2001.
Go back to 1998, five eager New Yorkers: Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, Albert Hammond Jr., Nikolai Fraiture, and Fabrizio Morett, with differing friendships and influences entwined. They formed a band: The Strokes. There were plenty of exciting whispers stirring up interest from labels, and in 2001 Is This It changed the musical vista. Suddenly Garage Rock was back, along with masses of anticipation and enthusiasm.
It wasn’t quite apparent at the time, but it is now accepted as a monumental and integral album of the decade. Rhythmic and speedy, the band all had their equal melodic part to play. Ultimately, the lyrics were about liaisons and delivered in a modern matter-of-fact way: “It was a great big lie, cause I left that night, yeah” being an example of youthful confidence.
The landscape was changing, and this instilled a huge wave of engagement whilst placing New York back on the musical map once more. The boys held an air of mystery that simply wasn’t manufactured. This was a squad, a pack, everything about them effortlessly cool. Adding to this the birth of ‘Indie Boy’ fashion twined with a new anthem ‘Last Night”, and the whole package was there.
A ferocious start like this causes a lot of hype, but it was clear to see that they just weren’t interested in those extras and just wanted to create, focusing on their adulation of music. Two years later and the second release of Room On Fire was upon us. It was, as some would say, ‘Strokesy’ and didn’t stray too far from the debut, but often for the sophomore album, you’re dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t. What it did bring was the perfect Reptilia, showing all five of them in their greatest light. Rising and invigorating with distorted voice, pushing rhythm section, and THAT Guitar solo from Valensi transcending live into an explosive feast.
By the mid-2000s, the group was well established but hadn’t quite reached the mainstream madness yet in America, which might be a blessing for their overall path. Never the less, they graced the cover of all major muso mags and massively owned their status. Wanting a bigger, produced sound, they were keen for a breath of fresh air; First Impressions of Earth was made, and like all of their body of work, had some colossal belters.
Melodic Razorblade niftily covers the complications of relationships, whilst You Only Live Once is a philosophical uplifting thing of beauty that many Stroke worshipers favour as their best. However, the whole package didn’t receive a red-hot reception, with some of the tracks questioned. The leaked Juicebox was seen as a weaker number, which I have always found strange, as I adore it. The band was naturally changing because the boys were too in their personal lives, and with so much intensely spent time together, a break was inevitable.
So what you going to do when you do have a little ‘me’ time? See where your creativity leads you without having to compromise? Sounds promising, yet daunting too, especially when being close to each other was a part of your allure. Albert was up first with Yours To Keep, sweetly showing in him at his best; he is still creating independently to this day. Much like Father John Misty and his emergence from behind the drums in all his stardust, this happened for Fab’s well-received Little Joy record, whilst Nikolai’s audacious The Time Of The Assassins was probably the most removed from their usual sound.
Julian’s energies were channelled into creating label Cult Records as a means to release solo work on his terms, but also wanting the industry to treat people in a just and fair manner; this is the place where the Strokes would ultimately release their work through. His work Phrazes For The Young came out in 2009 and, although he has mused in hindsight that he’s not certain of its merits, it is a joyous, synthy pop celebration in its own right.
Time ticked on and brought us to a reunion, the solo work of the lads drifted into the devising of Angles, released in 2011. It captures the sensation of different decades: 70s classic rock guitar for Gratification; 80s infectiously lush pop for Two Kinds Of Happiness. This could be the result of a greater input from all five members rather than Julian taking the reins, but relationships and hearts weren’t fully mended at this point.
There does always seem to be an appetite for that pure Strokes vibe, and this was satisfied through Taken For A Fool, plus its glorious cymbals use, and Under The Cover Of Darkness, both signature, but with a little extra kick to them. Call Me Back is a drumless, exquisite lullaby of signature writing: “There's something that you would not like me to tell you”. Billie Eilish has now introduced this to a new generation through a cover version. Faith was restored, but it was never truly taken away.
To conclude their five-album deal with RCA, which was an obligation that needed closure, Comedown Machine came around two years later in a quiet shroud with near zilch promotion or hint of a tour in sight. It possibly could have gone down the route of not applying any effort as a means to end, but actually, what they produced was a brilliant, edgier number.
It has been described as a ‘grower’ where all of the influences work and slickly gel together. Track All Of The Time was twinned with a montage video that is an emotional watch, feeling like it was an end of an era. It nostalgically looked back at all the boys had gone through together using clips from their documentary In Transit made way, way back at the beginning.
When collaborations work, they really work, take for instance Turner and Kane’s Last Shadow Puppets, therefore there should be mention of other marriages that add to The Stroke’s tableau and family tree. Nikolai got in touch with his artsy side through Summer Moon; Nick cut lose and got heavy with CRX; Julian embraced his experimental tendencies alongside The Voidz, and we must mention one of the finest pop song ever created in the form of Instant Crush by Daft Punk featuring Casablancas himself.
Now, just what is the point of this glimpse back? Because there is more being added to history on April 10th when their 6th LP The New Abnormal is released. Two singles have already been aired, Bad Decisions and At The Door. The former has gone down a traditional route, and the latter achieves their sound yet reaches a fresh new direction; hopefully, more of this to come. Whatever happens, it will be an addition to their remarkable back catalogue.
This is not meant to sound gushy; I‘m just lucky enough to write about music I love, it is massively better to have them here than not. The little bit of magic that they are blessed with paved the way for many essential artists, including The Arctic Monkeys and currently Fontaines D.C. Their journey has gone exactly how it has meant to; why on earth do people need the wizardry of Is This It repeated? We evolve, we grow, we don’t know quite what to expect. What we do know is that the boys will always be their own little West Side Story, as a gang, with their tale holding longevity. A wise man once said, ‘I just wanted to be one of the Strokes.” Join the club.
Article by Beverley Knight