The Reverb Essay: The Strokes are backBy Kevin Rochford | February 10th, 2011 | 1 Comment »
I heard the Strokes’ new single, “Under Cover of Darkness,” two weeks ago through a cross-country telephone connection.
John, my buddy who edits this site, taunted me on g-chat after receiving an advance download that day. So he called me at my office in New York and we had a three-way conference call with my friend Dave, from Austin, on the other line. Dave and I have been devout Strokes fans since their 2001 life-changer, “Is This It?” and John, reluctantly, fed the song to us from his headphones into his office phone receiver. Our reasons for this scheme were two-fold: One, we didn’t want to risk John-John’s job security and have him caught sharing the file through an email. And two, because Dave and I couldn’t possibly wait another two weeks to finally hear a new Strokes song when we knew someone out there had access to it.
We had to hear it.
It’s been five long years since we’ve heard new material from the Strokes. These years were filled with promises of an album “within the next few months,” various successful, though just-not-the-same side projects, rumblings of soured relationships within the band, and worst of all, fear that they would never get it together again. As time passed, the very idea of even hearing a new Strokes record became more of a daft fantasy.
And then, a few months ago, through the majesty of Twitter, we learned that the fourth album had been completed with a tentative release in March. Both joyful and fretful news for fans like me, who were hopeful that they would be able to deliver a strong follow up to 2006’s “First Impressions Of Earth” –- the widely-panned third album that had plenty of bright spots but lacked the consistency and no-bullshit, full-speed-ahead magic of their first two LPs.
The day of reckoning? Yesterday at 2:30 p.m. (EST), as Zane Lowe’s hardly-charming Kiwi accent alerted fans around the world to stay tuned for BBC 1’s exclusive world premiere of lead single “Under Cover Of Darkness.” Needless to say, the song sounded a lot better through my speakers than it had through the telephone two weeks back.
As I sat listening to the pleasing new song, I was taken back — as the Strokes took themselves back to the formula that had garnered them so much hype, credibility and respect a decade earlier. Ba-da-bap drums and rhythm guitars, battling Thin Lizzy-style lead lines, cool but catchy singing melodies and Casablancas’ signature voice (which has gotten better with age, to the point that he has no need to hide it behind the fuzzbox vocal effect of early recordings).
I remember being 16 when the first album came out and thinking they were all Italian or something because of their weird names. I remember being 17 and driving around the sticks dazed out of my mind getting chills as I blasted the record through the speakers of my Jean Claude Grand-Am. I remember moving up to New York City at age 20, their first three records the soundtrack to my first explorations around Manhattan, and for the first time, truly appreciating their sound in the context of a New York setting. I remember a westword-ho road trip this past summer playing my scratched, skipping copy of “Room On Fire” as we gunned 90 across the Nebraska plains.
And now, as a 25-year-old, I’ve watched their recent drought yield the perception of New York music to the Brooklyn scene ripe with nerds, laptop bands, knob rock, prog rock, smog rock, duo rock…
Still, their music is ubiquitously celebrated by musicians and “with it” kids that call NYC home, though in a very, very subtle way. Much like the cooler-than-thou moxie the band became known for, the hardcore fans make sure to not fly the Strokes flag high. For all the excitement of yesterday’s premiere, I saw hardly a status update about the band on my news feed.
But the Strokes’ music lives and breathes in certain parts of New York, most notably the Lower East Side and East Village dive bars and their utterly disgusting, piss-drenched, graffiti-and-stickered-out unisex bathrooms. Playing a Strokes song on a jukebox up here is like playing “Piano Man.” And rest assured, the clothes that they were wearing 10 years ago are still among the main tenants of hipster fashion, all these years later. Tight jeans, vintage tees, bitchin’ used suits, collarless leather jackets; you can’t walk a square block in Williamsburg without passing a Chuck Taylor’d kid who looks like he could have been the sixth Stroke, if only he had the fortune of being a prep school dropout in the right circle a decade earlier.
Anyways, welcome back guys, and thanks for making me feel like a jaded, bitter old man.
Kevin Rochford is a New York-based writer and office worker.