It’s been ten years since The Strokes placed a line in the sand between the two stages of their career with the release of First Impressions of Earth. An ambitious mess that received a mixed response from fans and the resultant tour causing the band to enter a hiatus that seemed like it would be permanent, it showed a band struggling to widen their palette, the problem being that the attempts at creating some kind of sci-fi infused rock opus came across as clumsy and ham-fisted. Since the hiatus, solo projects, sporadic live appearances and a comeback beset with the interpersonal enmity plaguing them still, The Strokes have been trying to go back to basics, while still indulging some out-there ideas.
Angles, like it’s predecessor, had its moments but largely was inelegant and at times unbearable to listen to. 2013’s underappreciated Comedown Machine fared better, tying a fascination with funk and synths into generally strong songs, along with vocal performances from Julian Casablancas that finally didn’t sound like he was seconds away from a root canal. In fact, the weakest parts of the album were the ones that sounded most like The Strokes of old.
Future Present Past, frustratingly, continues the new Strokesian trend of trying to split the difference. If these three songs are truly representative of the immediate spectrum of their styles, one can only hope they stay in the moment a little longer before making the leap into the future. ‘Drag Queen’ starts off promisingly with a plump bass riff, before falling into what sounds like a succession of unfinished ideas with some concessions to cliché, which is disappointing to see from something ostensibly representing what’s to come. The vocals have the same lo-fi microphone effects from Is This It, the shoehorned solo has the same neon sheen from ’12:51′, the result being a song that can’t decide what its goals are so it decides to throw everything in, creating a gangly structure that isn’t particularly interesting in its shortcomings.
Much stronger is ‘Oblivius’, which like the opener consists of pretty common Strokes tropes, but is bolstered by an uncommonly uplifting chorus and a stronger sense of momentum. When the ATP by-way of Short Circuit’s Johnny Five solo comes, the moment feels earned, and the song’s closing minute is the most joyous the band have sounded in years, thanks to the chorus and Casablancas’ endearingly shabby falsetto. The EP also includes a not-really-that-different and not-really-that-necessary remix of the song by the drummer Fabrizio Moretti.
Unfortunately, the EP closes out on a damp squib of a song in ‘Threat of Joy’, an overlong, perfunctory and cringe-worthy rethread of the band’s salad days that proves that the past is best left behind. If it were released as a b-side in their early years it would have been dismissed as a footnote in a promising climb to success. As a third of the only material mustered up in three years it’s just disappointing.
I would not write off the band yet, the Strokes are in a unique position where they’re no longer shackled by the usual rigours of album-promotion (considering how often they perform they’re not far off becoming total studio rats), and ‘Oblivius’ proves that in the right moment they can still bring the goods. I just wish I could be as optimistic about their plans for the Future based on what’s presented here.