Friday, 16 April 2010

The Strokes: Too cool to be the best band in the world?

When The Strokes first burst onto the music scene in 2001 with the their highly acclaimed debut album, cheekily entitled 'Is This It', they had the rest of the world screaming back 'Yes!'. The magnitude of the hype surrounding them was understandable. Here where five charismatic, stylish,  New Yorkers who played unmolested, original and simple rock music that stood out against plastic, saccharine acts such as S Club 7 as well as the processed, pubescent sound of the increasingly scarce rock bands of the time. The album was musically hard-hitting with Julian Casablancas's drawling, distinctive vocals highly reminiscent of a young Lou Reed whilst the punchy, consistent rhythm provided an ideal base for the two guitars to interplay melodically. The Strokes where the best combination of retrogression and innovation and this earned them the label, especially in the English media, as being "the next big thing".

However, Julian Casablancas must work in a style consistent to his image and manner -  laid back, casual, the epitome of cool -  as nearly ten years on The Strokes have only produced two more albums, 'Room on Fire' and 'First Impressions of Earth'. Both fantastic, they just about keep up with 'Is This It' which was recently named 'Greatest album of the decade' by NME. However, one wonders why, with the world rolling freely in their palms, The Strokes refuse to grasp it.

Well, firstly each member of the band has at one point in the last nine years gone of on a tangent and undertaken a fiddly individual side project which has definitely punctured The Strokes progress. As individuals, the band seem to be happy meandering along in the music world, enjoying themselves, creating music without anything becoming too intense. Most recently, Julian's 'Phrazes for the Young' which met good critical acclaim and is, with Julian's voice and gift for songwriting, a very good album that exhibits an interesting amalgamation of genres. However, this has postponed the release date for The Strokes next album to January, as Julian rather unconvincingly confirmed.

In the opposite manner to a band like Oasis, The Strokes played down the intense hype the surrounded them, insisting that they were just a group of ordinary guys playing some pretty good tunes and although Liam Gallagher would look about as cool as Gordon Brown in a wetsuit and clogs next to Julian and co, it was his shameless, hyperbolic promotion of his band that helped Oasis become so big. What is more, The Strokes do not seek to surround themselves with any kind of mythical aura as other bands have. A recent interview with Julian on 'Amplified' saw him candidly respond to a question asking the principle reason for the band deciding to play festivals in the summer with the answer "Money". Romantic. Often, when asked about his lyrics, the same lyrics that thousands of people identify with and let into their hearts, Julian nonchalantly denies that they carry any huge significance.

So this is it, The Strokes are simply too cool to be the best band in the world. It takes a certain amount of killer instinct and an unquenchable thirst for success to be the best at anything, not just music, and it is this that collectively The Strokes seem to be missing.  Perhaps if they had taken a more arrogant, in your face attitude and adopted all the necessary traits of international superstars they would have been. If they did however, they would not be The Strokes and their casual, unforced ability to create exceptional music, put on exhilarating shows and even the very essence of the reserved, assured New Yorkers would be lost.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

What Became Of The Likely Lads?

The cause of most excitement for music fans on the announcement of the Reading and Leeds festival line-up this year wasn't the vulgar splurge of dated, American nu metal bands that plagued the promotional poster. Nor was it the prospect of seeing an overweight Axl Rose flaunting his delusional ego around a stage, tarnishing the legacy of a truly great rock n' roll band that stirred up festival fervour in April. No, what delighted and excited real music fans around the globe most was that arguably the greatest British band of recent years were to reform for these two nights after five years of separation.

With only two albums and a few singles released in their short lived yet beautifully volatile existence, The Libertines managed to resurrect the British indie/punk/rock scene as well as embed themselves so powerfully in the hearts of so many that those five years (since their official termination in December 2004) have been torturous to Libertines fans to such a proportion that the only comparable human emotion would to be to imagine being Tiger Woods enduring a week of monogamy. Actually probably not as difficult as that, but that is certainly how it would have felt for Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, the creative duo at the forefront of The Libertines, whose unbreakable bond and talent for lyrics and melody have meant they have not been unduly compared to Lennon and McCartney.

And so after a press conference and (apparently) impromptu performance at the Boogaloo bar in London, it seems the Libertines are back to their ragged, simmering best and that Pete and Carl are once again, as John Hassall The Libertines bassist quipped, "sharing underpants".

Can we expect some new music from the band too? Certainly. Not only has Pete suggested that they will be working on a few new numbers but whenever Carl and Pete are together, music seems to flourish as an inevitable product of their creative connection.

Some will question wether a festival spot in front of thousands of people will really play to the band's strengths for their comeback gig. After all, The Libertines most memorable gigs have been in front of 50 sweating, squirming fans crammed to the beams in pokey rock n' roll venues in London such as Filthy Mcnasty's and the Camden Monarch. There is a possibility that the four will skulk onto stage like moles in the sunshine and that their energy will evaporate into the blue summer skies or be wasted on the red bull and pizza guzzling Limp Bizkit fans. I doubt it. After the experience of big festivals Carl and Pete will have gained fronting the Dirty Pretty Things and the Babyshambles respectively, The Libertines will be back better than ever and the combination of the much loved songs, the emotion of the reunion and the refreshed passion and vigour of the band will ensure a festival stopping performance. Fred Durst and his cronies should be prepared.

There is of course the definite possibility that either Carl or Pete (more likely) won't turn up at all, however.