The Strokes have always been hampered by their past exploits, and the problem has always been the same: if they continued making music like their debut, they were called safe, and if they deviated, people complained because it wasn’t Is This It. But in recent years, the band has diversified massively, with Albert Hammond Jr’s solo project, Julian Casablancas’ album with The Voidz, and Nikolai starting up Summer Moon. This could mean that finally, people will stop expecting The Strokes to recreate their past glory, and let them just do what they do best.
And it seems that, after 3 years of musical silence, they’ve decided to return with a concept EP, as Future Present Past’s track list seems to mirror its content. If the sinister 80s synth grumble of Drag Queen represents the band’s future, then OBLIVIUS is the band’s transitional present, and Threat Of Joy is a nostalgic flashback to the glory days.
Drag Queen, a song that’s strangely evasive despite its relative simplicity, kicks off the EP. Although the sound of this track is very sinister and interesting, it feels weirdly uncertain, as if the band weren’t quite sure what sort of song they wanted to make. There’s a noticeable influence from Julian Casablancas’ extra-curricular activities too; in fact, this track feels like it could’ve slotted neatly into the tracklist for Tyranny with its odd jazzy guitar stabs and tense chorus soaked bassline.
By contrast, OBLIVIUS is a flawless meld of every version of the band’s sonic blueprint. The low-fi feel of Room On Fire (a production style that encompasses the whole EP) is teemed with slower moody touches reminiscent of First Impressions Of Earth. The vocal melody darts about during the verses, settling on a fantastic hook in the choruses. ‘What side are you standing on?’ howls Julian, as the track explodes with pent up energy. It’s a great new addition for the band, although it feels as if it could’ve benefited from more solid backing vocals.
Threat Of Joy, with its spoken word opening, feels especially tongue and cheek. Julian Casablancas seems to be actively engaging with the band’s critics, asking why they won’t play with him anymore. But the song itself, with its laid back vibe and woozy delivery, is itself very playful. But, like OBLIVIUS, the song is crying out for committed backing vocals. We get some attempt, little bits here and there, but the choruses of both songs would benefit massively from a really strong harmony, and would take these songs to the next level.
What’s re-assuring about this EP is that it shows that The Strokes are still capable of working together and cranking out some really delightful tracks. The band sound largely cohesive throughout, though less so on Drag Queen. Future Present Past, as its title suggests, is very aware of the band’s heritage and history, and although its something of a safe release, it sounds like The Strokes are having fun playing together again, and when it comes down to it, isn’t that all that really matters? Despite its shortcomings, Future Present Past is a lot of fun, and a cheerful reminder that, for The Strokes, this isn’t it yet.