“The Strokes’ Future Present Past EP: A Skeptic’s Introduction to Joy Division”

The new Strokes EP’s total immersion in ’80’s schmaltz is definitely not surprising. Even before Julian Casablancas’ cheeky new wave giddiness on Phrazes for the Young, and his angular Annie-Lennox type androgyny on Tyranny, there was always the dead giveaway back in their heyday — Nick Valensi’s bridge part on “12:51.” It nodded with ridiculous obviousness to The Cure, but they got away with it because they had a bunch of other devices and ploys. That guitar sound was just a testament to something the band loved (and which no one else I know seemed to love) — that abundantly, if maybe deliberately, perky bliss-pop of the Reagan decade.

Now, if you tie matters of the title into this discussion, the question is begged: is this actually just a practical joke? I mean, even listening to the drums on the first two songs, you’re bombarded with that epochal ambience, the “wet” snare sounds bellowing out like the monster ballads we all make fun of every day, provided we grew up in the ’90’s or later. But for the Strokes, man, it’s apparent that this is how they got their groove back! They just gotta cheese out and dance! Well, ok, boys. But I hope you know what you’re doing.
And they don’t, but they’re irresponsible in a fun way, at least. Instead of transitioning adroitly into choruses, Casablancas spills his guts exclamatorily on both “Oblivius” and “Threat of Joy.” The first of these actually surprisingly grows on you once you get to the song’s end, and by “Threat of Joy,” you’re so befuddled that this is the one track that doesn’t sound like a Joy Division cover, that you’re willing to forgive them almost any transgressions.
Anyway, the message seems clear on Future Present Past: the teens are the ’80’s, god-da**-it! The initiative right away with the excellent opener “Drag Queen” seems to be enacting a totally ulterior kind of morality, one that relinquishes he-man-ism, but also one that acknowledges the paradigmatic darkness of life during polluted, crime-ridden times. Cello confidently takes the baton on the center of the mix on “Drag Queen,” granting a soft and damaged aspect to what with guitar would have been power pop.
But the band sound truly like they’re having fun playing together, so maybe this meadow-romping zeitgeist is indeed more or less in order, like high school naivitee is the only common locus for their palpable group pride (be it gay or straight). Regardless, the fact remains that The Strokes are still a rock band, and though they are at this point a retrograded one, certain aspects of their cohesion and sonic fusions (not to mention Albert Hammond’s awesome frills on “Oblivius”) get you feeling like maybe thinking back is the best way forward.

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