Why Julian Casablancas Is Better Off Without the Strokes
Photo By Colin Lane Julian Casablancas + the Voidz
While the platinum-selling, festival-headlining Strokes played a significant part in the turn-of-the-century resurgence of the New York rock 'n' roll scene, their last three albums have been mostly devoid of both passion and ingenuity. Whatever inspiration and creativity Casablancas has left in him should be directed toward his own projects, and not the moribund remains of his once great band.
Lighting out alone, without the cachet and drawing power of the previous group, can derail an artist's career (while also damaging the commercial appeal of the bandmates he left behind) -- but sometimes sticking around can do just as much damage.
At the start of 2001, the Strokes' Modern Age EP helped bring a feisty quality into the long-declining New York rock scene, and their debut full-length, Is This It, remains one of the best records of the 21st century. Their worthy follow-up, Room on Fire, is an underrated gem that found the band honing their insouciantly cool sound and indelible hooks, but it represented a peak in creativity that the group hasn't managed to approach in the past decade.
First Impressions of Earth, the dreadful Angles, and the meandering Comedown Machine found the band losing the plot while coming apart at the seams. Julian didn't even bother to record with the band during the sessions for Angles, and his detached vocal contributions to Comedown Machine give the impression of an artist not concerned or emotionally connected with the songs or the band itself.
Casablancas proved he had plenty more to offer on his first solo album, which arrived during the Strokes' lengthy hiatus in the mid-aughts. Released in 2009, Phrazes for the Young is better than the past 10 years of output from the Strokes. Don't believe it? Give it a listen; you'll be pleasantly surprised. On that often overlooked album Casablancas sounds inspired, and the vibrant, electronic-driven material embodies the spirit of a musician who is clearly having fun making music once again.
Casablancas's new venture with the Voidz continues along that same unbridled path. Their first album emerged earlier this year with darker, more somber undertones. The erratic, often unpredictable songs on Tyranny don't all hit home (and lack the focus of his Phrazes work), but at least Casablancas is taking some songwriting risks these days instead of the safe, pedestrian numbers the Strokes have been churning out as of late.
The first two rapid-fire Strokes club shows back in the day were boozy, cocksure performances by a band who knew that they had the best set of songs in the world at the time. As their popularity grew, so did the size of the rooms they played in, and their tame, all-too-brief big-room shows in '02 found the personality-deprived band swallowed up by the large theater setting.
They have since grown to festival-headliner status all over the world, but their sound has never been suited for such large-scale performances, and the recent sets pale in comparison to those combustible early shows. Casablancas doesn't have the stadium-sized persona necessary to connect with audiences of that scale anyway, which is another reason he should continue to tour the smaller clubs with his side projects and put those big festival days behind him.
We'd love another killer album from the Strokes as much as anyone. However, judging by the anemic dreck that they have offered up over the course of their last three records, it's clear that the late-period comeback album is just not in them and is, unfortunately, never going to arrive.
Nothing will ever diminish the striking sonic brilliance of Is This It or Room on Fire, but it seems the Strokes will never be able to replicate those creative triumphs, either. All of the Strokes now have side projects they can devote themselves to -- and so they should all just start a new creative chapter in their lives and put an end (a final end) to their stale band, which has sadly outstayed its welcome and outgrown its usefulness.
It's high time for Julian to cut his losses, as well as his ties to his four old friends in the Strokes, and move on to projects like the Voidz or whatever else comes next for him. He is better off without the Strokes -- and the lofty expectations and comparisons that come along with it. Julian Casablancas performs Tuesday, Nov. 25 at Hammerstein Ballroom.
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