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January 28, 2013 - 9:29pm

'What Ever Happened' to The Strokes?



It’s been nearly twelve years since The Strokes stormed through New York City’s Mercury Lounge and catapulted to immediate fame with their phenomenal debut album Is This It. The album’s maturity, grittiness and controlled aggression — see “Alone, Together” and “Last Nite” — make it highly re-playable and perpetually relevant in any conversation about the best albums of the early 21st century. One listen to the unabashedly blasé but irrepressibly catchy “Someday” immediately hearkens back to better times where The Strokes, Interpol and The White Stripes ruled and reinvented garage rock. And just as easily, one listen to The Strokes’ latest single, “One Way Trigger,” shows just how far the Manhattan quintet has come since their inaugural success – for better or worse.

“One Way Trigger” is a Strokes song only nominally; the jarring synth and foreign falsetto (Et tu, Julian?) are about as un-Is This It as it gets. Until Casablancas languidly moans “You ask me to stay” about a minute into the song, you’re not entirely sure if you’re actually listening to The Strokes. Perhaps the futuristic, inorganic production shouldn’t come as a surprise after 2011’s much-anticipated but slightly traumatic Angles. Toying with weird and unexpected sounds in an effort to expand the band’s rigid identity, Angles came off more as a disjointed 80s wannabe than the positive expansion The Strokes presumably sought. While “Under Cover of Darkness,” “Taken For A Fool” and “Gratisfaction” showed glimmers of hope, the rest of the album ranged from the bizarre (“You’re So Right”) to the unfortunate (“Machu Picchu”) to the downright awful (“Call Me Back”). “One Way Trigger” unfortunately takes its cue from the latter camp, sporting an angular synth that’s more “Machu Picchu” than “12:51” and a similarly pioneering attitude with ultimately underwhelming results. There are moments where it works — Fab Moretti’s rigid drumming saves the song from anonymity, Casablancas gets it together in time to belt a catchy, falsetto-filled chorus — but more where it doesn’t. There’s the crowded, haphazard guitar solo, Casablancas’ vocal identity crisis, and, well, the entire opening minute. But perhaps the most worrisome part of “One Way Trigger” is its distinct lack of the scruff that distinguished The Strokes in the first place. Even though Angles got a little weird at times, songs like “Two Kinds of Happiness” still packed a punch. “One Way Trigger,” though, is as innocuous as it is disappointing. It’s too early to say The Strokes have taken an MGMT-ian journey down the rabbit hole — come on, this is one single — but “One Way Trigger” does little to assuage any lingering post-Angles concerns about the band’s direction.

“Oh dear, is it really all true? / Did they offend us and they want it to sound new?” Casablancas coolly crooned on 2003’s Room on Fire opener, “What Ever Happened?” And while The Strokes certainly sound new on “One Way Trigger,” it’s hard not to ask that exact question of them today. What ever happened? It’s a question the band must address on their upcoming fifth studio release, but if “One Way Trigger” is any indication, they may be just as baffled as we are.

—A version of this article ran in the print version of the Daily on Jan. 29, 2013.