Deep Cuts is a recurring feature on Consequence of Sound that finds us looking for the hits beyond the hits. Today, we’re heading to New York City to explore The Strokes’ entire catalogue ahead of their sixth studio album, The New Abnormal.
The Strokes aren’t a singles band. Never have, never will be. Granted, to some, they’ll always be the kids who “ripped off Tom Petty” with “Last Nite”, and, sure, old-school Guitar Hero fans might perk their heads up at hearing “Reptilia” at a bar, but they’re an albums band. Because when fans talk about the New York City rockers, the debate is rarely about favorite songs, but what albums they align with now or yesteryear.
So, picking out 10 deep cuts was admittedly a challenge. To most fans, every track off their first two albums are as popular as any single they’ve ever released. In fact, more so, as we’ve come to learn the guys are kind of shit when it comes to picking stuff for the radio. Nevertheless, we stuck to our guns, dug a little deep (but not too deep), and pieced together a collection of tracks that range from “Oh yeah” to “Oh yeah?”.
Like anything, these will change just as soon as we hit publish, particularly with their sixth studio album, The New Abnormal, on rotation. Three days from now, we might be kicking ourselves for not advocating hard enough for “Hawaii” or giving some love to their cover of Marvin Gaye. For now, though, we’re fairly confident with this batch, and guarantee you’ll be tapping your feet along the way to the Galaga machine.
“Trying Your Luck” from Is This It (2001)
Not that we’d change a thing on Is This It — neither the US or the UK version — but man, they really coulda shut things down with “Trying Your Luck”. It’s such a mood. A total bruise. A glance over the shoulder. Somehow, it says “Take it or leave it” more than “Take It Or Leave It”. Julian Casablancas is peak loner here. He’s James Dean by way of James Caan, a leathered lothario agonizing over the wheel of a Trans-Am on his way out of town. His venom would be so insufferable — “At least I’m on my own again/ Instead of anywhere with you/ But, to me, it’s all the same” — if it weren’t so goddamn relatable. Daze off long enough and you can almost see him hiding the tears behind that mop of hair, and boy did he have it then. Like him, the song’s a total stud. –Michael Roffman
“Automatic Stop” from Room on Fire (2003)
So much of The Strokes’ music are about moments, and “Automatic Stop” is full of them. The secluded intro; that massaging guitar melody 46 seconds in; the little arcade breakdown at 1:50; the way Casablancas sounds like he’s singing while slowly sliding into a leather booth at 2:25; or how Nick Valensi, Albert Hammond, Jr., and Nikolai Fraiture stop the boogey at the end there. The spacey reggae track comes early in Room on Fire — and after “Reptilia”, no less — which is surprising since it’s such a comedown. It’s like if The Replacements put “Sixteen Blue” after “Favorite Thing” and expected you to go with it. We rolled with “Automatic Stop” because we were already sold on the Strokes and this speaks like their anthem. Casablancas’ lyric of “That’s just a phase, it’s got to pass/ I was a train moving too fast” says pretty much everything about their gasp in the ’00s. –Michael Roffman
“I Can’t Win” from Room on Fire (2003)
If this feature has one through-line, it’s that The Strokes are great at coming up with endings. So great that they write too many. Like Is This It, Room on Fire could have easily ended a track earlier. After all, “The End Has No End” is a diamond, and, well, it’s all right there in the name, no? That’s no shade to “I Can’t Win”, though — not at all. Instead, it serves to make a point: The track is better off by itself. Because when you revisit its origins — The Strokes were playing it live a good year before Room on Fire — it’s clear they felt compelled to add it on the album — and for good reasons. It’s catchy, it’s jubilant, it’s truly emblematic of the band. But it’s also more Is This It than Room on Fire, which is why it would have been better served as a standalone track. Come to think of it, that 2002 soundtrack to Spider-Man was primo real estate. Oh well. Song still kills. –Michael Roffman
“Modern Girls and Old Fashioned Men” from “Reptilia” single (2003)
If you couldn’t tell, we love Room on Fire. What can we say? It’s an extremely powerful sophomore album — arguably the strongest of its era — and captures The Strokes at their most unstoppable. They were a microcosm of cool and that extended to everyone who drifted in and out of their circle — especially Regina Spektor. At the time, their tour opener was similarly experiencing her own upswing, so it was only natural they’d collaborate. Welcome to your favorite B-side: “Modern Girls and Old Fashioned Men”. Of course, we can’t forget producer Greg Calbi. He gave it flavor. Some punch. He refused to hold back anything. Cool bit of trivia: Calbi also oversaw and mastered Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. Put that in your pocket. –Phillip Roffman
“Ize of the World” from First Impressions of Earth (2006)
Someone once told me during a Voidz show that “Ize of the World” is Casablancas’ favorite Strokes song. Who knows if he was full of shit. Looking back, though, he was probably right. Not only because we were standing to the right of the stage and he was clearly a friend of the band, but because the fucking Voidz were playing the goddamn song. Whatever the case, the story checks out as the track is Pure Casablancas, and would comfortably fit on either Phrazes for the Young or his two junkyard albums with the Voidz. Without leaning too hard on hyperbole, “Ize” is a genuine post-punk masterpiece, an interstellar odyssey that romanticizes an existential crisis through a series of orgasmic choruses. This is the true closer of First Impressions of Earth, and unlike “Trying Your Luck”, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. –Michael Roffman
“Ask Me Anything” from First Impressions of Earth (2006)
Let’s be clear, First Impressions of Earth will forever be The Strokes’ most under appreciated album. (Even aesthetically. Does anyone remember the Kubrickian website they had during this era? I digress.) Alas, if we’re sticking to capital U under-appreciated within the Strokes’ catalogue, then we have to discuss “Ask Me Anything”, a song that even sounds under-appreciated. Come on! The isolation of the Hammond B3? Casablanca’s somber delivery? It’s like Frank Sinatra and Giorgio Moroder ditched Studio 54 for a late night in the studio with a bottle of bourbon. By the way, be sure to check out Milton Glaser’s artwork in the album’s booklet for this song specifically. He’s the man who gave us “I Heart ️NY” logo, which seems rather poetic given that The Strokes are the New York band of the aughts. –Phillip Roffman
“Machu Picchu” from Angles (2011)
If “Under Cover of Darkness” was the invitation back to The Strokes in 2011, then “Machu Picchu” was their greeting at the door. Sounding like a more Bohemian version of The Doors circa Waiting for the Sun, the Angles opener teased an exciting future for the New York rockers — one that sadly didn’t happen. It was a nice dream, though, and one that’s still worth revisiting and relishing. Come for Nikolai Fraiture’s bassline, stay for the 8-bit guitars, and linger around a little longer for Casablancas’ licorice melodies. It’s a very lush adventure — yes, those are bongos in the background there — and certainly carried on the tradition of the band’s penchant for essential album openers. If only the album had a matching bookend. –Michael Roffman
“Two Kinds of Happiness” from Angles (2011)
If John Hughes were to make a film today, “Two Kinds of Happiness” would be the heart of the soundtrack. You know that part where the protagonist chases after the one they love in fear of their future? There’s so much energy within this track. It’s a total coagulation of the band’s strengths, from the mall-gazing verses to its anthemic bridge to that maelstrom of a chorus chock full of pinballing guitars. Given the preceding drama ahead of this record — the band recorded something like 18 live demos without Casablancas before scrapping all but one — it’s a sterling testament to teamwork. –Phillip Roffman
“Slow Animals” from Comedown Machine (2013)
With Comedown Machine, The Strokes facilitated an active media blackout to really show the middle finger to a certain recording studio (see: RCA). This meant no TV appearances, no interviews, no photoshoots, no live shows, and no tours. At all. It also meant people lost out entirely on songs many would call ear candy. “Slow Animals” is one of those songs, a moody jogger that slides into a chorus that leans more on Valensi and Hammond, Jr. than Casablancas. Because really, the hooks here are all in the strings, and their cries lead to our tears. Coulda been a single. –-Phillip Roffman
“Oblivius” from Future Present Past EP (2016)
For as disparate as they felt — three years removed from their last studio, five from one they actually promoted — The Strokes really came together on “Oblivius”. The middle child of their Future Present Past EP, the song sounds like a Voidz track; that is, a Voidz track that actually a.) decided on a melody, b.) leaned in on their hooks, and c.) stayed the course. Although his vocals sound buried under a box of glazed donuts, Casablancas bubbles over Valensi and Hammond, Jr. like a shower radio that’s fallen into a bathtub. “What side are you standing on,” Casablancas chants repeatedly — to us, his bandmates, himself? Doesn’t matter. The answer’s in the execution. Hearing this nearly half a decade ago proved these sad boys aren’t going anywhere, and The New Abnormal only solidifies that notion. –Michael Roffman