For all the traditionalism and tropes that define The Strokes — taut guitars, catchy chords, and an over-the-top rock ‘n’ roll attitude — they too have been a sort of experiment for a new interaction between artists, the public, labels and critics. The explosion of the group in 2001 was propelled by a new millennial generation of rock writers and listeners. A shiny, new “indie” publication called Pitchfork would come, for better or worse, to define this new approach. Reviews became increasingly self-indulgent and personal — this band means something to me; this release is far too mainstream for me; look at all of these references I know. Naturally, music reviews are going to be subjective. Those who tell you a review can be completely techincal are kidding themselves. But this new brand of narcissism was, nevertheless, a sea change, and it was one The Strokes were pulled into gleefully by the culture, the band’s wishes — whatever they might have been — aside. And as it goes, it was in that sea The Strokes drowned, as critics who hailed the band started taking personal offense that they wouldn’t follow in the footsteps of their darling record Kid A.
And yet, despite the disdain, The Strokes have continued to dole out catchy, infectious, lasting singles from one decade to another. The usual complaint — they’re just rehashing the same material — is not necessarily ill-founded; it’s just irrelevant at this point. Fine, none of their material may ever match the beating heart of “Last Nite.” But the relentless pace of “Reptilia,” the shimmering chords of “You Only Live Once,” the pitch perfect “Under Cover of Darkness” and the jittery “One Way Trigger” endure well on their own merits, even if they’re not on a disc titled Is This It.
Accordingly, The Strokes have managed, after much discussion of their fate, to once again create a successful, bouncy, fun release.
It seems part of that success comes from a lesson in brevity. For the most part, The Strokes have always followed this rule, but it’s more obvious on Future Present Past than ever. There are only three new tracks included, with the addition of a remix of single “Oblivius” at the end.
Opener “Drag Queen” jolts the EP into pace with its dark guitar chords, and while a bit overambitious and scattered lyrically, it features a welcome revision of the guitar interplay that admittedly fell off in some of their later records. But it’s the original single here (per usual) that stands head and shoulders above everything else: “Oblivius.” It’s a towering work by the band and could be comfortably asserted as one of their very best in over a decade. The chorus resonates like nothing we’ve heard from the group in a while: “What side are you standing on?” It’s simple, to the point, and beautiful, which is not what would always be associated with Julian Casablancas’ nasally voice.
“Threat of Joy” is a more upbeat take, and it feels straight from Room on Fire – era. It’s less memorable than “Drag Queen” or “Oblivius,” but still a solid track front to back, disregarding the odd opening lines from Casablancas (“Ok / I see how it is now / you don’t have time to play with me anymore”).
The addition of the “Oblivius” remix by Moretti is an unnecessary and inescapably redundant one, but it’s a forgivable misstep given the length of the EP. It shifts the focus, rightly so, towards the single.
Are The Strokes changing the culture with Future Present Past, as they once did? Definitely not. Are they going to win the minds of long-standing detractors? No. But if you want a straightforward, no-frills rock release, you can rely on The Strokes, like you always could.