The Comeback Machine

Indie rock golden boys The Strokes are making their glorious return—this time, with an agenda

It’s 2001, and rock ‘n’ roll is in hibernation. Though, really, it might as well be dead.

A quick glance of Billboard’s number-one rock songs throughout the early 2000s is a sad hodgepodge of tracks from the universally loathed Nickelback’s discography and a few remainders of ‘80s metal.

In New York City, however, a scene was taking shape. Inspired by the gritty alternative rock landscape of 1970s New York pioneered by The Velvet Underground, The Ramones and the like, bands like Interpol and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs brought new life into rock ‘n’ roll. The garage rock renaissance marked a return to the rockstar status quo of booze, drugs, sleazy hook-ups and general anarchy. And at the heart of this sweeping movement was The Strokes.

With Roman Coppola-directed music videos—really more like glorified commercials for cigarettes and forties than anything—and timeless uniforms of denim jackets, thrifted tees and Converse hi-tops, The Strokes were the epitome of cool. Disregard the rich kid narrative—it wasn’t like you could tell guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. and Julian Casablancas were trust fund babies anyway. Not with their band-practice-every-night work ethic and countless shows at grimy dives throughout the city.

It wasn’t a question of if they were going to make it in the industry or not, but a matter of when they would get their big break.

Weighing a measly 18 pounds—I was nine months old at the time, after all—I wasn’t exactly cognizant of the rock ‘n’ roll revival that was brewing on the other side of the country. Life wasn’t so much about wicked bass lines and whether or not Julian Casablancas was secretly dating the band’s manager as much as it was about Sesame Street and Caillou.

After the release of The Strokes’ first EP in 2001, a multi-million dollar bidding war ignited between record companies as they raced to claim their stake in the booming garage rock revival movement. With the release of their freshman album, “Is This It,” The Strokes reached a generation of youth with a bevy of instant classic anthems.

Nearly 20 years and five albums later, The Strokes have returned at full force, announcing the imminent release of their long-awaited sixth LP, “The New Abnormal.” Though occasionally booking festivals and one-off gigs over the past few years, the band had not dropped a full-length album since 2013 and had been plagued by rumors of creative differences and internal conflict between members, a topic Strokes fans have analyzed to death time and time again. Tensions peaked during the recording of the band’s fourth album “Angles,” and apparently rose to the point that frontman Casablancas recorded separately from the rest of the band.

The friction between band members, however, has seemed to cool—at least to the point where they can tour in peace in anticipation of their new album. In addition to booking concerts around the world from Los Angeles to Helsinki, The Strokes made waves when, like their indie rock peers Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver, they announced their support for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and performed at his Bernie Beats Trump Rally ahead of the New Hampshire primary.

Casablancas, who has been known to get political on his Twitter, applauded Sanders, calling him a “dedicated, diligent, & trustworthy patriot—and fellow native New Yorker!” at the rally’s press release. His own ventures into politics include interviewing cultural critic Henry Giroux in 2016 and exploring topics like capitalism and authoritarianism in his music with side project The Voidz. Meanwhile, bassist Nikolai Fraiture had previously endorsed Sanders in the 2016 presidential election.

Though they had dipped their toes in political statements with their music before—most notably in songs like “Ize of the World,” a societal critique off their third LP, “First Impressions of Earth”—this is the first time The Strokes made an outright political endorsement as a band. Playing to a crowd of 7,500, The Strokes performed a full set of 12 songs including “Ize” and a punchy cover of The Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House,” a nod to Sanders’ political revolution.

The band’s vocal support for Sanders may have ruffled the feathers of a few fans, but with the impending drop of their first album in seven years, worrying about alienating a few Bernie adversaries is at the bottom of The Strokes’ priorities.

It’s the second coming of The Strokes. They’re back and they’ve shed their rock ‘n’ roll recklessness and swapped it for activism and a clear message. What’s to expect for LP6? Less nostalgic teenage ruminations, and maybe a deeper dive into philosophy, culture and the state of the world. Through all the changes, though, there’s one thing we can always count on: the Chuck Taylors. Always the Chucks.