Take one Nick Valensi guitarist from the once all-conquering Strokes, give him a couple of years to learn how to write and sing his own songs, mix liberally with producer Josh Homme (and I mean liberally), throw in some songs for the deaf-era drum sounds and what would you expect to get? Queens of the Strokes Age? That’s probably a bit harsh and a tad too reductive but it is probably the best way to describe this album in its basest form to someone. Officially though (and more boringly), CRX (sounds like some kind of fitness programme) is the name Valensi has given to the band that he now fronts because the Strokes aren’t playing enough live shows at the moment. The album is called New Skin.
It opens up with ‘Ways to Fake it’ which starts with a guitar riff that sounds like it was rescued off the cutting room floor when the Strokes were recording Angles. It’s pure riff-driven new wave power pop and is one of the most overtly Strokesy tracks on the album. The verse settles down into an 80s FM rock groove that wouldn’t have been out of place on Ryan Adams’ last album, 1989. It’s by the book, there are no surprises but it’s not a bad song and you wouldn’t smash up the stereo if it appeared out of nowhere on shuffle.
‘Broken Bones’, the second track, sounds like a cross between Queens of the Stone Age’s menacing stomp rock and the type of crunching melodic guitar pop that the Raconteurs can do so well. It’s a strong track and the first sign that the band are crafting their own sound or at least attempting to. ‘Give It Up’ continues in this vein with a blistering guitar solo and thundering drums towards the end of the song that gives it a stronger than expected finish.
The one thing that is glaringly apparent throughout this album is that Valensi is a victim of his own innovation. His guitar playing is so distinctive in his other band that it works as a double edged sword here, some songs sound so utterly Strokes-like regardless of lyrics or melody simply by the presence of Valensi’s guitar and kind of prevents the songs from being appreciated on their own merits. While on the other side, his guitar acts as a security blanket to guide us through some of the other less familiar tracks on the album. If you can turn off the ‘you-know-who’ detector and listen to this album on its own merits (it’s hard to do, but repeated listens help) you will hear the sound of a band forming and coalescing their sound. On the one hand is the power-pop and on the other hand is the darker hard rock. In the second half of the album there are signs in ‘On Edge’ and ‘Unnatural’ that both sides are beginning to enjoy a more symbiotic relationship. It’s not a bad listen, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and I could find myself listening to the album on repeat a couple of times quite easily.
It’s not a bad start for CRX and if there are going to be more albums it’ll be interesting to see where they go with their sound. This one at times sounds like two or three different bands on a mixtape. If they can sort that out next time around it will make a huge difference. Some of the songs are very good, Valensi’s voice is quite strong in parts and his knack with melody both vocally and on the guitar is undeniable. It will fill the gap for Valensi and the listener until the next Strokes album comes out. Who knows, it may even turn out to be better than the next Strokes album?