The Strokes gear up for phase two
The smoke has cleared.
After the turbulent months of smothering hype and gushing publicity, The Strokes have emerged largely unscathed. In New York and elsewhere, hipsters in hexagonal eyewear have moved on to discussing Rival Schools as the next rock and roll heroes, and the UK press is now swooning and fixing their hair about Starsailor. Sure, there’s still hype. How could there not be? But it is not of the viscous, butter cream variety that surrounded the band during their meteoric rise to darling, or hated, status, depending on who you hang with or which message boards you visit. The paradox is that, after all of the windbag platitudes, The Strokes are still – as they always have been – just a band.
What do they do now?
Past and future hype aside, The Strokes’ career as rock stars is unfolding in a manner befitting a talented young group with the attention and financial backing of a large record label. They are touring diligently behind their record, and getting solid spins at modern rock stations in many large radio markets. They even filmed a video for “Last Nite,” albeit on their own terms. Refusing to fake playing their instruments, The Strokes opted for a live performance on a well-lit soundstage. The resulting clip has garnered a solid following on MTV’s “Total Request Live,” and just may bestow Cliff Richard status upon Julian Casablancas, outside the dueling realms of indie chicks and silicon golddiggers already waiting with empty dance cards by the door of his tourbus. Which is fine. Before it spun wildly out of control, the band’s publicity onslaught was the same as any other group that had the ear of its backer. In an alternate world, The Strokes would have emerged as a promising buzz band, a la the current hubbub surrounding Arizona emo-poppers Jimmy Eat World. After 6 years of success in the Indie world, Jimmy Eat World signed to Dreamworks, and are currently winning over a nation of Blink-182 fans with their infectious brand of New Wave-y power chordage. But for reasons that have been documented too many times to be named here (You don’t know? You better ask somebody), The Strokes followed a different path to their current state. Their buzz exploded before note one, and only after this Hungry Man-sized portion of bullshit did they begin the systematic rocking of hearts and minds that most baby bands use to actually establish said buzz. They may have had us at hello, but now it’s “What have you done for me lately?”
The challenge here is to remove the machine from the band, and view them as any other gang of rockers with something to prove. For even without the hype (there’s that word again), the band’s music is worth hearing, and if it hadn’t been put under such a glaring light, would likely move mad units anyway. Viewing The Strokes as Just Another Band then, their next move would be another single, performances at a few of those radio station holiday bashes, and appearances on major media outlets to solidify their name in the brains of the Sugar Ray’d. In fact, they have already taken that step. The Strokes will appear on “Saturday Night Live” January 19th, with host Jack Black. Playing out this business plan of sorts, The Strokes would parlay their SNL appearance into a series of early Spring shows, perhaps piggybacking a tour with an appropriately cool, already popular tastemaker like Weezer or even Incubus. The Strokes would then appear on whatever mildly sexual college entertainment MTV has planned for Spring Break, with Casablancas acting as a judge for, say, a beachfront edition of the network’s popular “Say What Karaoke.” By Summer, Casablancas and his mates would be ready for a large-form arena tour. The second year of Moby’s successfully eclectic Area:One tour of last Summer would seem to be a good fit. And after all of this, The Strokes, critical darlings who were once both hated and loved by music types everywhere, would officially be Rock Stars. And their sophomore album would feature too many keyboards and be destroyed by the very same critics who wrote XOXO in their diaries a year before.
This is all speculation. If The Strokes’ ascendance occurs as such, a legion of music intellectuals will undoubtedly dismiss them more than they already have, accusing the band with the same vitriol meted out to Green Day in 1993. You will recall that Billie Joe Armstrong and the boys were lambasted for “selling out their punk roots” after signing with a major and releasing Dookie to instant success. The difference here is that The Strokes have never been very punk rock, and don’t have much of an Indie pedigree to sell out upon. Nevertheless, because so much of their aura has focused upon their NYC rock pedigree (Television, Velvet Underground, etc.), if The Strokes become rockin’ 9-to-5’ers and not just a fashionable flash in the underground pan, people who gnash their teeth over this sort of thing will disown them. Because implicit in the shitstorm surrounding the group was the joy at being part of it. And when it’s over, it’s time to move on to the next band that has something to offer beyond pent up rage, a dreamboat singer, or a hot series of hooks.
The Strokes have, for all practical purposes, outlasted their own hype. In countless interviews, the band has repeated their wish that everyone talkin’ at them would just listen to the music. Well, now everyone is. And as just another band in showbiz, The Strokes need to decide if they want to burn out, fade away, or continue to do their part in making pop music rock again.