The Revival of The Strokes: So You Thought Rock ‘n’ Roll Was Dead?
By Jessica Fynn
Photography by Cody Smyth
Over twenty years on from their conception, the last seven of which being in radio silence, The Strokes have returned to the music scene, teasing their sixth studio record The New Abnormal. Set to be released in early April, the new record has all the promise of the kick and snare of their first studio album, Is This It, released in 2001. Except, this time around, the band are not quite so fresh onto the punk-rock scene.
The Strokes are returning as adults with all the knowledge and experience of their days in the spotlight, yet not quite with the notorious image of their youth – the band consisting of members, all of whom are nearing, if not already, well into their forties. Once hailed by NME as “the saviours of rock ‘n’ roll,” The Strokes are a band symbolic of all that was good about the late nineties underground sub-culture. Influenced by The Velvet Underground, Nirvana and The Cure, their sound was not necessarily unique, but seemed to carry a raw kind of energy that breathed life into crowds.
Millennials might overhear the gritty bassline of “Last Nite” and recollect a whole load of firsts: the first gig parents reluctantly allowed them to attend, the first grateful sip of a lukewarm beer, gripped by the smug hands of someone who successfully used their fake-ID for the first time. Or the millennial might recall a memory they thought they had buried in a deep, dark corner of their unconscious mind: their first sexual experience, fumbling around in the corner of a grungy, dimly-lit venue, while onlookers raised their eyebrows, and pretended not to notice.
Greater than their steely, futuristic sound, The Strokes will be remembered for the rugged image of mouthy frontman, Julian Casablancas. His look was one that typified the late 90s grunge aesthetic – worn leather jacket, tattered denim, cigarette in one hand and microphone in the other – the timeless “hair-sweat-and-guitars” look of Kurt Cobain. His outspoken and fearless reputation in the press was one that earnt him a certain notoriety. He, like many rock stars before his time, was a figure that the many loved to hate.
Even at forty years of age, it seems that Casablancas still enjoys a run in with the modern media. At a set performed in support of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, our frontman invited members of the crowd up on to the stage amid lyrically iconic “New York City Cops”. In response to an officer who tried to speak to him mid-song, Casablancas turned away, laughed, and carried on, inciting cheers from the audience and one particularly enthusiastic “fuck the police!”. Resistance is in the blood of The Strokes, and even in adulthood, there has to be something about music, when used as a site of rebellion, that just seems to get people going –or perhaps it just makes them feel young again.
The New Abnormal has a track list that indicates the kind of teen angst that features in a lot of their earlier songs, with lyrics that detail the same bold rebellion – first sexual experiences and experimentation with drugs. The first song off the new album “The Adults are Talking” had already had its debut back in 2019, but new tracks “At the Door” and “Bad Decisions” were released on all live music platforms on 11 February and 19 February, respectively. Their sound appears – at least from these initial releases – to have remained pretty consistent, perhaps with a little more spacey, Tame Impala-type synth. It seems unlikely that they’ll pull an Arctic Monkeys circa 2018, but while a sparky jazz number would scream “death to rock ‘n’ roll”, it would certainly revive their image. And people would listen, mostly out of pure confusion.
Twenty years on, it remains to be seen if the band will survive yet another revival. It might be overly optimistic to think that an audience of nostalgic now-adults in search of a youth long forgotten, should be enough to maintain their rugged image, at least for the time being. But music, like everything else in our current climate, has become replaceable. The constant search for new sound, has meant that the music scene, populated by a host of fresh, up-and-coming alternative artists, is crowded. The Strokes are a band that in their time, have had to deliver a number of mighty comebacks, their stormy history demanding this of them.
But will The New Abnormal just be another example of millennials wishing they could turn back the clock (because really, who could blame them?) or can Casablancas still write the same tunes that made his band famous? The Strokes are certainly a name that carries some weight…and after all, people don’t really change, they just get older.