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February 24, 2013 - 10:47pm

The Strokes still searching 'All the Time' for their classic sound



A few weeks ago, Strokes fans were left with the equivalent of an unexpected text from a still-loved ex from high school: news that a Seattle radio station apparently had a new Strokes single that — allegedly — was to deliver the “classic Strokes sound” we’ve craved for nearly a decade now. Fans wanted to believe that it was true, but if we’ve learned anything after the 2011 release of Angles, it’s that the Strokes are going to do what they want to do, and all we can do is wait around for some inkling of Is This It.

In late January, we were given “One Way Trigger,” a synthy, falsetto-filled track that led to some people praising the return of the Strokes, while others questioned if it was genuinely a Strokes song (new game: drink whenever someone comments “WTF????” on the Soundcloud stream). But “All the Time,” the band’s second single, entirely lacks the neon leg warmers and side ponytails of “One Way Trigger,” leaving us with somewhat incompatible pieces of evidence as to what to expect from the band’s March 26 album, Comedown Machine.

The song starts off inoffensively, guitars warming up while Julian Casablancas’s vocals glide over the track at an octave we’re used to, assuring listeners that he hasn’t changed a bit. But as “classic” as the start of “All the Time” may sound, it doesn’t have that instant appeal, the lighthearted seduction with which so many Strokes songs have enticed us time after time. Instead, “All the Time” leaves us curious as to where exactly the song is taking us, as if Casablancas simply rolled up with sunglasses and a cool car and said, “Get in.” Except, the song cruises for a few blocks, and then crashes into a stop sign.

The chorus consists of Casablancas repeatedly insisting what sounds like, “We’re livin’ it up,” which only conjures up images of Strokes in their thirties sitting in the same bar they filmed the music video for “Someday,” drinking beers in too-tight jeans while not only facing the ghosts of their past, but (unsuccessfully) trying to still be them.

Toward the end, an electric guitar solo best described as gimmicky wraps the song up before the chorus repeats. The solo almost feels necessary, as if the Strokes were hammering out “All the Time” and then Albert or Nick piped in, Wait, our fans will probably want a guitar solo, so let’s write one real quick and call it a day.

And yet, despite all my grievances with “All the Time,” there’s still this appeal that stems from the fact that it’s the Strokes — it’s Julian, Fab, Nick, Albert and Nikolai, and all of the warm rushes of nostalgia and eighth-grade infatuation I had with the band back when I was first beginning to actually develop a taste in music. Strokes fans can be a bit of an obsessive if not cultish bunch, so it’s likely that this song will be hailed as perhaps the “Last Nite” off the band’s upcoming fifth album. But let’s be honest. “All the Time” is not something that would have ever been considered for Is This It, or perhaps any of the band’s old stuff. It almost sounds like they’re selling false nostalgia. It’s fine for the Strokes to aspire to return to the cheeseburger-consuming, cigarette-smoking, mischief-making days of American rock that made the masses swoon in the early aughts, but that would require that they actually put some heart into their music and have some fun together — not just as a band, but as friends.

—A version of this article ran in the print version of the Daily on Feb. 18, 2013.