Did you know the Strokes still exist? Yeah, me neither. This week, they released a new music video for their new song “Bad Decisions.” In it, the Strokes are like ’70s Westworld clones and I could not be happier. They’ve got a new album coming out in April, The New Abnormal— their first proper full-length album since 2013. This is all good news for an almost 39-year-old dad. But, the retro sci-fi vibe of the new video is also alarming. When did the Strokes become a band I’ve cared about for twenty years? What kind of simulation am I living in?
In the year 2002, which, as far as I’m concerned, was literally yesterday, my sister and I watched Julian Casablancas show up about 45 minutes late to perform a set with the Strokes that lasted about 30 minutes. There was no encore. They opened with “New York City Cops” and closed with “Last Nite.” Their second album — Room on Fire — was still a year away, and the only song they played from that as-yet-be-released record was “Meet Me in the Bathroom.” The Strokes were mega-popular from 2001-2003, for precisely two songs — “Last Nite” and “Someday” – but their entire throwback aesthetic (could a band be the New York Dolls and Oasis at the same time?) arguably trumped their actual musicianship. Yesterday, when I was young, the Strokes were a cool new band that everybody just liked, even if you didn’t really care. Casually liking the Strokes actually made you a bigger Strokes fan than serious Strokes fans. Not giving a shit was what made it all so great.
All of this is why I’m having a little bit of a hard time with the fact that the Strokes are releasing a new album in 2020, nearly two decades after This Is It first made short, dirty, slightly apathetic garage rock seem like a revelation. I’m not saying I moved to New York City at 23 in the year 2005 exclusively because I wanted to lazily bump into a random Stroke in a bar and somehow translate that cool dude energy into writing personal essays, but it was approximately 60 percent of that decision. These days, the most visible Stroke, Julian Casablancas is campaigning for Bernie Sanders, is a father of two, and apparently, has been totally sober for eleven years. This means, that long before I was married and had a kid, Julian was already toning things down. I’m pretty happy that the various Strokes seem like functional and happy guys, who still know how to crank out excellent music, but I’m also slightly disturbed by something else.
They look exactly the same as they did in 2002. To be clear, I’ve seen the Strokes live three times, all before I was 35. Once in 2002, in my hometown Mesa, Arizona, at the aforementioned show with my sister, and then twice in New York City in 2005, and 2011, respectively. So, I have a good idea of what they all have looked like throughout my eventual slide into the kingdom of being middle-aged and a dad. And, let me tell you they are not aging at a normal rate.
This is true of their music, too, thankfully. Though many critics have tried over the years to claim, that the Strokes have really “reinvented” themselves, or made themselves “relevant” what’s so refreshing about “Bad Decisions” is that it’s not trying very hard at all. Just like the wacky Tron-homage in the 2005 video for “You Only Live Once,” the Strokes doing the ’70s Valley of the Dolls/Westworld thing proves how little they’ve changed. The song itself also sounds like it could have easily been lifted from Room on Fire or First Impressions of Earth. In other words, it’s great without being annoying. It feels like you’ve heard it many times before, which is exactly why we all loved “Someday.”
The Strokes are the only band I’ve been obsessed with for two decades that seemingly haven’t changed and also seem to churn out songs that feel like they were ripped-off from some karaoke bar that exists in my mind. Their lack of musical evolution, visible aging, and overall Stroke-yness is both comforting and frightening. Sure, behind the scenes, the Strokes have families and are all settled down now. I’m the same way, but I don’t have hair like Julian and I’m certainly not as fab as Fab.
Generally speaking, when rock stars get old, it’s a little embarrassing. The Strokes are — against all odds — not doing that. They’re still cool as fuck, and it seems that their secret is that they’ve never tried to be cool. Which, for men of a certain age is probably a valuable lesson. Want to be as cool? Just stop trying.