The Strokes’ new album: The first listen – The band invite NME into the studio to hear their third record
The Strokes have played NME their third album – giving us an exclusive preview six months before its release.
The band invited NME into the heart of their recording process, playing 14 unmixed tracks, some of them so new they haven’t been named yet. All are being considered for the follow-up to ‘Room On Fire’ , due early next year.
The songs see the band moving into more experimental areas, something drummer Fab Moretti believes is down to the relaxed atmosphere created by building their own studio into their Midtown Manhattan Music Building rehearsal space.
He revealed: “We couldn’t have the pressure of hearing the fucking change fall in the bucket every time seconds passed. So instead of using the money the label were going to give us to make the third album at a studio, we just bought our equipment. Now we have it permanently and we don’t feel that guillotine falling. It really helps us to explore.”
Album number three marks a distinct shift from the serious attitude that has previously surrounded The Strokes’ camp, and credit has been given to new producer David Kahne. The most obvious difference Kahne brought was to convince Julian Casablancas he could really sing.
“Kahne really showed his guns and shit,” declared Fab of the producer.
“We always set out to do something different. Maybe we didn’t have the tools to do it on the second record like we do now.”
Admitting the group felt rushed on ‘Room On Fire’, Fab insisted they are set to return with a renewed confidence.
“I feel like this was the perfect amount of time and it’s gonna be the perfect set-up for the record,” he said.
The album is now being mixed at Soundtrack Studios and the first single is due in the autumn.
You Only Live Once :: Of all the songs on the new Strokes record, this one sounds the most familiar. It’s got the classic chiming guitars from ‘Is This It’, plus the soaring pop of ‘Room On Fire’. That said, the song immediately distances itself from the band’s past endeavors, thanks to the uncharacteristic clarity of Julian’s voice. It’s been debated for years but the truth is out – he can really sing.
Juice Box :: Possible first single. Anyone wondering what The Strokes are going for on record number three, get it right here: imposing bass, crazy metal-head drumming, and weird self-amused guitars, accompanied by Julian’s unadorned howl. This song introduced a new band, one not afraid to get loose and loud, and fronted by a lead singer who’s as available and exposed as he was once evasive and shy.
On The Otherside :: One of the standout new tracks, this song is reminiscent of early Strokes songs like ‘Hard To Explain’. Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi’s guitars chase each other through a tight rhythm, while Julian drawls through lyrics like: “I hate them all” and “I hate myself for hating them”. It’s a gorgeous mix of cheerful guitars and aching lyrics.
TBA :: This song is almost operatic. It sounds like it could have been on the Donnie Darko soundtrack as it showcases the band’s use of a Pixies-style fast/slow dynamic. Their Casio-esque guitars sound even cuter, and the cuter the guitars sound, the louder and more aggressive the drum and bass seem. The end result is sort of schizophrenic – but in a good way.
Razor Blade :: On this track, Nick and Albert’s twin guitars play with a Sabbath-like heaviness, then jump back into a loose Strokes solo. ‘Razor Blade”s lyrics are some of the best Casablancas has written: “My feelings are more important than yours” he sings, “the world’s in your hand or it’s at your throat”.
TBA :: One of the most experimental new songs. An initially clean and tight rhythm gives way to theatrical, crescendo-filled chaos. The band have never been as messy as they are here, but they’ve developed the skills to pull it off without losing focus.
Ask Me Anything :: This song features only Julian accompanied by Nick on a mellotron. The lyrics flip from the bizarre (“we named a summer camp after you”), to the amusing (“don’t be a coconut”), the suggestive (“we could drag it out but that’s for other bands to do”) and even the poignant (“Got nothing to give/Got no reason to live/Got nothing to hide/I will fight to survive/I wish I wasn’t so shy”). The overall feel is of total intimacy, like The Strokes playing in your bedroom.
Heart In A Cage:: The guitars on this song sound like The Who – dramatic scales and lots of volume. But the lyrics give it a sense of eerie depression: “I don’t want what you want/I don’t feel what you feel/I’m stuck in a city but I belong in a field”.
Killing Lies :: Old-school Strokes with distant vocals. The guitars carry the song, but you can make out “don’t think everything is gonna stay the same” from Julian’s mumblings. TBA:: Currently Fab’s favourite song (though he insists they’re all his “babies”), this track is the sound of insomnia. Urgent bass and drums underlie post-punk guitars, then the sound shifts to a cavernous echo overlaid with Julian’s sleep-obsessed lyrics.
Evening Sun :: One of the mellower tracks, this song shows exactly what happens when a young, talented band gets to spend a year tinkering with expensive toys in their studio. The pretty feel of the song is reminiscent of Pavement and the lyrics are classically impenetrable: “They love you or they hate you/They thrill you or sedate you/They don’t ever let you be”.
Fear Of Sleep :: This song uses The Strokes’ new favourite juxtaposition between happy guitars and big rocks drums and bass. It’s a slow/fast tirade during which Julian repeats the line “fear of sleep” in everything from a near-whisper to a grating scream.
15 Minutes :: References to the trappings of fame abound on this waltzy track, during which Julian’s voice is so clear and deep it’s disarming. Standout lyrics include: “It was all just a dream” and “today they talk about us and tomorrow they won’t care”.
Red Light:: The last of the 14 songs NME heard is one of the best. The lyrics are consistent with the perils-of-fame theme evident throughout (“I can still see yesterday sailing away”), but here Julian also dabbles in uncharacteristically outward-looking commentary on his generation’s lack of direction, describing “an entire generation that has nothing to say”.