They’re cooler than Keith Richards. Their music will save your life. And their haircuts will make your girlfriend leave you. They are The Strokes, and they’re coming to a truck-stop shower stall near you.
If you ask the nice folks in Lake Edna what they think of Fabrizio Moretti’s drumming skills, or Albert Hammond, Jr’s coif of impossibly unwashed hair, they might use responses similar to those uttered by the good people listening to “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” in John McRea’s docu-video for Cake’s new single. In the clip, no one cares that McRea’s band is “hep” and features a trumpet. His snide, proto-Malkmus lyricisms get about as far as the left bra strap before the hearty souls listening on headphones hold up a pink hand and say “WOAH! Outta the car, longhair!” Cake’s inability to get to third base with the average American who doesn’t wear odd eyewear or sport a homemade Kahimi Karie T-shirt illustrates the humor behind The Strokes’ campaign of guerilla chic. Even though every critic from London to Los Angeles has taken their moniker literally, Dot down at the LeSabre Diner probably wouldn’t seat Moretti, Hammond, Nikolai Fraiture, Nick Valensi, or Julian Casablancas if they stumbled through her door looking for a round of blintzes. “They looked homeless,” she would remark later.
The Strokes are an NYC product, built out of showcases at the Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge. They wear leather. They’re pretty. And none of them can rent a car legally. Is that why this quintet of fabulously wasted youths have made like Jimi Hendrix, storming the UK press before anyone in the US even bums them a Marlboro? No. It’s because the Strokes’ full-length RCA debut (slated for September) will move more units if a few pricey Rough Trade singles have already spread the word amongst the funny shoes set. For you everydayers, those are the freakishly pale youngsters on the subway who look like they stepped out of the couture section in your copy of British GQ. For this truly is the demographic that this sort of marketing works on. Just like Jessica Simpson and City High touring your local supermall (“SEE the STARS! BUY their RECORD!”), a band of the Strokes’ pedigree sells records anyway it can. And if a million media outlets (including NME, Top of the Pops, The Face, Blender, and Sonic Net) buy into their New York state of mind and unwashed groove, then that’s more blowjobs for Julian Casablancas and his mates. And I don’t mean from the critics.
So what’s up? Are they a Flock of Seagulls tribute act, or what? Nah, but those guys had nice haircuts, too. No, the Strokes’ ju ju, based on two EPs and a brief domestic stint with Guided by Voices, seems to revolve around the musical heart of — surprise – New York City. After all, they are children of Manhattan, and Julian’s daddy is John Casablancas, brains behind Elite Modeling. In the chiming, gritty guitars of “The Modern Age” EP lie echoes of The Velvets, and Julian’s faux crooning goes a long way toward conjuring Lou Reed. Their simplistic, yet tuneful songs could suggest the No-Wave of Television. Or they could just be amateurs. Either way, their hair is perfect…
The boys grace the latest Rolling Stone’s “Random Notes” column with a photo that seems boilerplate Strokes: As half-drank Budweisers add color, the lads stare into and away from the camera’s flash, reveling in their complete wasteosity. Bassist Fraiture seems to be pointing at Hammond’s crotch. “No, you put that in the model’s growler.” As this shot is basically identical to every other Strokes publicity snap, one can only assume that, even if their music doesn’t make any waves with Joe Heartland, at least the elegant boys from New York’ll deflower his daughter.
And if that isn’t as cool as Keith Richards, what is?