As always, The Strokes have delivered.
“What?” you ask. “Are you serious? You think this is good Strokes.”
To which I must reply, yes, it’s good. It’s not their best, but it’s good. There’s just something to their music that works every time for me. Even if the music is somewhat 80s inspired and there are overtones of intra-band fighting, it still has the tight drums of Fabrizio Moretti which work unbelievably well with Nikolai Fraiture’s always-turned-up bass, the brilliant guitar interplay of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi, and the lazily intense vocals of Julian Casablancas – an immediate recipe for success. This combination makes me highly doubt this band could put out a bad album.
So, we agree that musically this album is pretty good, despite a few weirdly bad songs that we’ll elaborate on later. But what makes this album interesting is the underlying story. I usually shy away from lyrical content because a. I’m not a poet nor a Lit major, b. I suck at analyzing lyrics, and c. I usually don’t pay attention to the lyrics or even hear them until I’m singing along to the song. I’m much more interested in the music and the way the vocal line meshes with that; the lyrics themselves are often an afterthought to me. But in this album, the band has so blatantly tried to make their arguments heard through the lyrics that I couldn’t help but notice. So, here we go.
Lyrically, the album sounds like a stuck up teenage girl complaining about a boy who likes her too much. And while it’s unclear if she reciprocates those feelings, she sure as hell enjoys being wanted, almost as much as she enjoys telling her little Romeo that he needs her a lot more than she needs him. Julian Casablancas is a teenage girl, and he mocks his band members by testing their patience and telling them that they’re basically nothing without him, as we see in the opening track Machu Picchu:
I’m putting your patience to the test…
It’s never yours but someone elses voice…
Casablancas even puts himself in the voice of the rest of the band, stuck somewhere between begging their lover to take them back and hating themselves for even wanting to be taken back.
Tell us, are you gonna tell us?
Why do we feel so jealous?
Under Cover of Darkness seems to be the band’s response to Julian. The “fuck you – you know your music is much better when we’re all playing together, so why don’t you shut up, because we know what’s best for you.”
Don’t go that way
I’ll wait for you
And I’m tired of all your friends
They’re listening at your door
All I want
What’s better for you
He’s both their friend and adversary, but he’s also their ticket out of there, and out of singing the same song for ten years. The song ends with the band telling him I’ll wait for you. Which is what happened in the end.
Two Kinds of Happiness has Julian going Yellow Lebdetter on the lyrics, as no one’s quite sure what he’s saying there. Happiness? Souls? Laugh? Whatever he’s saying seems to be secondary to the fact that this song is one of the best on the album. If not for the reverb-laden snare drum during the pre-chorus, this song would be one of their best. Other than that fatal flaw, it’s pretty near perfection for these guys. (Interestingly, this is what The Strokes might sound like without Julian. The vocals take a backseat here, and you can barely hear him. But the music still shines through. Earth to Julian – these guys would still be pretty awesome without you.)
You’re So Right continues with the band’s response to Julian:
I still want to ask you something more
I don’t want to fight
Don’t want to beg
Taken For A Fool continues this banter as Julian responds “I don’t need anyone with me right now.” This Clash inspired track is one of my favorites on the album. There’s just something about those drum beats in the verse that hook me in every time. It’s a tight song that still manages to ooze with grunginess, which is where they’re at their best.
Games is the worst song on the album, and maybe The Strokes’ worst song ever. This is not my opinion, but what I believe to be fact. Not only does the music sound like really bad Nine Inch Nails track crossbred with a Devo song, but the lyrics are both stupid, and throw off my entire thesis for this album. Please skip over this track when you get to it.
Call Me Back brings us back to the band’s side of the relationship, complaining about their inability to get together.
Waiting time is the worst, I can hardly sit
No one has the time, someone’s always late
I look for you, and you look away
Oh, the trouble of being a stuck up girl at a middle school dance. Oh Julian. Why must you play hard to get? The Freaks and Geeks style mini-series based on this album’s lyrics would be depressing and sad if it wasn’t so hilarious.
Which brings us to Steely Dan. Wait, what? Oh right. This isn’t Reelin In The Years, even though it sure as hell sounds like it. But this is Gratisfaction – the reconciliation song. This is the song where Julian tries to see things as they were back in 2001. Where he tries to recall the sloppy middle school love he once had for his bandmates.
And she tries to recognize me with the eyes she saw me with in December
And even though there may not be mutual love any longer, they seem to agree to get up in the morning and run.
Metabolism is where the band turns around and says “Julian: We love you. We’re nothing without you.” To which I can only guess he smiles and nods; happy that his minions are once again under his control. Happy that he’s back as the band leader
I wanna be somebody
Wanna be somebody like you
They’re back to their earliest relationship. No more of this “joint song writing,” but back to where Julian wrote all the songs and controlled every aspect of the band. And maybe it’s better that way? Two Kinds of Happiness seemed to show the band that they could survive on their own, but they’re Stokholm-syndroming right back into Julian’s abusive arms.
Life Is Simple In The Moonlight continues with the band admitting that they were jealous of Julian in the first place, and can everyone just be happy and listen to the music?
Musically, the album is great. Lyrically, the album is either hilarious or depressing – depending on whether this marital discord is real or not. I’ve half a mind to posit that the arguments are just a PR scheme to get attention for the band, which may be why they focused so obviously on it in the lyrics (maybe). Or, the band has learned not to take themselves seriously and is making fun of their fights (doubtful). Or, the band is entirely serious (probable) and has no idea how stupid they sound, or how petty their stupid arguments are.
Either way, if you want a good musical time, or insight into how middle schoolers deal with their relationships, this is the album for you. Well done, boys. Well done, indeed.
The Strokes – Machu Picchu
The Strokes – You’re So Right