Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE END: The End Has No End

Purchase The Strokes, The End Has No End

The Strokes. In 2001, their debut, This Is It, was perhaps one of the greatest rock albums of the past 20 years. In retrospect, 15 plus years on, it's still an amazing album, but its greatness is measured against the disappointment of their subsequent albums. And I realize it is utterly subjective and a little unfair to hold The Strokes up to their freshman brilliance. The bar was set so high on This Is It that it would have been impossible for even the most steadfast band, with the deepest talent pool and the best of extracurricular habits, to repeat. And while the Strokes have had scattered and occasional genius on each release, it's been a game of a diminishing ratios.

So statistically, 2003's Room on Fire had more great songs on it than 2006's First Impressions of Earth, which is still a relatively cool album, but not nearly as luminous as the two before. 2011's Angles barley deserves a message--it sounds like bad disco, and you have to dig all the way to the end to get that good track ("Life is Simple in the Moonlight"). I don't even know what to say about 2013's Comedown Machine, except that perhaps The Strokes were just having is on, telling a little joke.

Which in the Strokes case, is at least interesting. As in, even bad, they are an interesting band.  They music they create is of its own genre, really. And when it doesn't work, its only disappointing in comparison to their stunning talent for making uncommon commotions. So, need I even say that I don't think anything will ever equal the stellar, stunning brilliance of This Is It? The stand out tracks are the ones that sound most like their first songs, and when the Strokes are good, my god, they're amazing. When they're not, they are oddly, still an interesting band. Just not a very good one.

One of the best songs from Room on Fire is "The End Has No End", a little bit of shaggy pop, with a brilliant sashaying rhythm guitar and a bubbling,  lead line that sounds like a computer from a 1970s cartoon--think Mr. Peabody feeding calculations into his machine. The drums are classic finger taps on thin glass until the whole thing winds out into a lit-up chorus and a dissonant back and forth between the guitars and Julian Casablanca's laconic snarling anger. It comes up, it goes down, it sounds like it comes from a space age that we read about in science fiction novels from the 60s. Like I said, when the Strokes are brilliant, they are nothing shy of first-class rocket ship pilots.

So, why aren't they always brilliant? I don't know, but its OK: we just don't understand.

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