Let’s talk about the art of biting. It really does happen to the best of them. Talent borrows, genius steals, etc. That’s why you can sing Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” over Jenny Lewis’ outstanding “She’s Not Me” or Modern English’s “I Melt with You” over David Berman’s heartbreaking “All My Happiness Is Gone”. The Strokes have cultivated an image that’s shameless if nothing else. They have plenty of solid abstractions poking out of the various fan-disappointing releases they’ve released since Is This It, with the jaunty guitar fireworks of “Heart in a Cage” and anthemic “You Only Live Once” from 2006’s First Impressions of Earth being special faves.
In fact, another tune from that album was a great bite in itself, “Razorblade” recasting Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” as Pro-Tooled garage rock of all things. But unlike last week’s ornate synth maze “At the Door”, the band’s new single, “Bad Decisions”, is not rocket science. It’s “Dancing with Myself”, one of the best and most inescapable hooks of the ‘80s, retrofitted like one of their thrift-shop vintage shirts, into The Strokes’ catchiest song since Is This It. And it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Like they could have filled Angles or Comedown Machine with certain dynamite like this all along but just (crosses arms) didn’t want to?
The twist is that “At the Door” is just as good, since Julian Casablancas’ other band, The Voidz, have a lot more fun playing screwy synth games than The Strokes, so if this Rick Rubin-produced comeback album, The New Abnormal, isn’t all “Bad Decisions”-style radio fare, there’s still a good chance it could be the band’s best album in eons. But even if it’s not, you’ll remember “Bad Decisions”, not least because you already knew it.
For Fans Of: Well, The Strokes, but also The Killers, The Cars, and lesser-known bands who’ve since refined this approach and just bubble over with big-tent anachronisms, like Public Access T.V.. Maybe 2020 will be the return of the Big Rock Song.
Best Moment: Look, there’s a lot of patient Strokes fans who’ve been waiting nearly two decades for just one perfectly, stupidly, massive chorus, even if that job was outsourced to Brandon Flowers a long time ago (if you’ll remember, even Room on Fire’s first single, “12:51”, had a wordless guitar hook that everyone thought was a Ric Ocasek synth). “Bad Decisions” is that chorus. Even Billy Idol will be shouting it all the way to the bank.
Where to Go from Here: As we prep for The New Abnormal, maybe return to the mechanized palm-mute grooves of 2013’s Comedown Machine (“Tap Out” was a bop) or 2006’s expansive First Impressions of Earth, neither of which matches the debut but sure sound fresher than its sleepy, overly Xeroxed sequel, Room on Fire, the Whip-Smart to Is This It’s Exile in Guyville.
Other Great Songs This Week: One of the greatest screeching indie-guitar bands, Archers of Loaf, debuted their first new song in 22 years, “Raleigh Days”. And speaking of Bruce homages, Obama-beloved Springsteen heirs Low Cut Connie double down on both of those qualifiers with the gorgeous, Trump-excoriating “Atlantic City” sequel “Look What They Did”. The distorted, musique concrete soundscape-metal of Sightless Pit’s “Drunk on Marrow” will make your afternoon weirder, while The Avalanches and Blood Orange sampling The Roches’ all-time beautiful “Hammond Song” for “We Will Always Love You” should get it back on track.
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