In 2001, the Strokes’ album This Is It, shook up the staid British rock scene, along with the White Stripes,. Both bands stripped their songs of excess length or ornamentation, although the Strokes were the more polished of the two outfits – the White Stripes the more innovative – and both broke over here before becoming successful across the Atlantic. Ten years later, both bands have struggled to produce anything for years with members focussing on solo and side projects (Jack White wiping the floor with both Julian Casablancas’ and Albert Hammond Jr’s efforts). The White Stripes finally called it a day earlier this year, but the Strokes managed to survive a scrapped album and tension within the band to produce their first album in five years.
The omens, however, were not good. Singer and ex-main songwriter Casablancas did little more than separately record his vocals whilst the rest of the band shared the songwriting duties between them and recorded most of the album, independently of Casablancas, in guitarist’s Hammond Jr’s house. Lead guitarist Nick Valensi called the whole experience ‘awful.’
For all of that, it’s as good, as any of their previous records, and as flawed. The opener, ‘Machu Picchu,’ is superb. The verses have a faux-reggae feel whilst the chorus returns to their trademark tight punk rock sound, the last repeat of it wilder and with different lyrics. Lead single ‘Under Cover of Darkness’ is also jauntier than is usual for the Strokes, but this time the innovation is not entirely a success. Better is ‘You’re So Right’ (also the B-side to ‘Under Cover of Darkness’ )which sounds like a revved up version of Pink Floyd’s ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ but with inferior lyrics (‘What are the reasons [x3]/ to forget/ I wanna tell you [x3]/ Nothing ‘ is a typical example). ‘Taken for a Fool’ is reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but poppier. Most surprising is a rare ballad ‘Call Me Back’. It is lyrically, again disappointingly shallow, but it works musically. Overall, the wider distribution of songwriting duties have resulted in an album that is musically more varied (and, it has to be said, with mixed results) but unadventurous lyrically. In other ways it is typical of their previous output – two or three outstanding tracks, and a tight/stingy* (*delete as appropriate) total running time at just over 30 minutes.
The difficult recording experience for the band remains a concern for their future viability, but three members of the band (Casablancas, Valensi and bassist Nikolai Fraiture) independently confirmed that they are currently in the studio working on material for a fifth album. So whilst it’s R.I.P. for the White Stripes, for their fellow revolutionaries it’s only Au Revoir.