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Exclusive First Listen: The Strokes

By: Marc Spitz

Julian Casablancas rolls up to Manhattan’s Soundtrack studios on an ancient green ten-speed, looking much like he did the last time he played Spin new music, in the summer of 2003. But Casablancas and the Strokes have changed. After feeling rushed making Room on Fire in an expensive studio, they built their own to write and record their as-yet-untitled third album. Industry vet David Kahne (the Bangles, Sublime, Sugar Ray) took over the project as his vision for the album began to dominate that of longtime Strokes producer Gordon Raphael. Andy Wallace, who gave Nevermind its pop gloss, has been brought in to mix. Clearly, there is a lot at stake, especially since Room racked up just over half of their landmark debut Is This It‘s two million worldwide sales.

“I kinda feel like we’re starting again,” Albert Hammond Jr. says after he arrives on foot. “We crushed Room on Fire into one month, this is much more spread out. We let it breathe. It feels like the next level.” Here’s a complete track-by-track breakdown of the album.

“EVENING SUN” Chill-out Strokes, with soothing, atmospheric guitars. Not exactly cocktail punk, but mellow in a relative sense and literal in a lyrical sense. Sunsets are, occasionally, really pretty.

“JUICEBOX” Opening with a mock-metal bass riff, this first single candidate’s flanged solo and Stooges-worthy lyrics (“Standing in the light field / Waiting for some action”) could make it a radio monster. “I remember people saying this track is ugly,” Casablancas says. “I think it’s got a great personality.”

“UNTITLED 1” A reggae stomper with big guitars and what could be the lyrics of the year: “I hate them all / I hate myself / I hate myself for hating them / So I drink some more / I love them all / I drink even more / I hate them even more than I did before.”

“YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” A poppy homage to the Cars’ Ben Orr, with power chords and a clean vocal mix (no slurred singing). “Dave Kahne liked it when I sang out of my range,” Casablancas says. “A chair would squeal and he’d say, ‘Hit that note.'”

“RAZOR BLADE” Guaranteed to remind anyone over 30 (or anyone who frequents gay piano bars) of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.” “We wanna sound like stuff from the future you’ve never heard before that references stuff from the past,” Casablancas explains.

“VISION OF DIVISION” One of the album’s more overtly ’80s tracks, with a synthy riff that recalls Room on Fire‘s “12:51”; a dubby bridge in which Casablancas complains, “All that I do is wait for you”; and a guitar freak-out that sounds like the Charlie Daniels Band.

“ASK ME ANYTHING” Over a spooky mellotron riff (actually a computer), Casablancas sings a series of non sequiturs, like “Don’t be a coconut.”

“HEART IN A CAGE” More hard rock, with nifty marching drums. Casablancas’ urban ennui is a good fit with the darker, slithering metal vibe. But even though this track (along with “Juicebox”) may set off alarmists, “We’re not Velvet Revolver,” Hammond assures.

“KILLING LIES” The ballad. Gothy, quasitribal drumming that recalls Yeah Yeah Yeahs at their dreamiest. An appreciative nod to the great, brooding modern rock of the ’80s.

“EYES OF THE WORLD” The metallic and the new wave collide here, with weird echo effects and big guitar crescendos. And the fake ending totally faked us out.

“UNTITLED 2” Possibly the most “classic Strokes” track. Dirty, New York City pop, looser drumming, and evidence of the band’s heavy (though seldom explored) debt to Blondie.

“FEAR OF SLEEP” Distorted vocals return for this oddity in which Casablancas repeats the title, Lou Reed style, as if warding off ghosts of long nights past. “I don’t sleep anymore,” Casablancas says of his inspiration. “The worst is when you’ve been up all night and the morning news comes on.”

“UNTITLED 3” Swirling burlesque, reminiscent of the Doors’ “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” or everything Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds ever recorded.

“UNTITLED 4” Another jaunty, percussive, new-wave raver that could get play from radio and — provided the video isn’t a nod to Modern Girls, Electric Dreams, or Vision Quest (à la the Tron-obsessed clip for “12:51”) — MTV.

True Strokes fans in the U.S. might want to update their passports: The first chance to hear the new material will be this October in South America. The Strokes have announced three tour dates as part of the South American Tim Festival. The band will play on October 21 in Rio de Janeiro, October 23 in Sao Paolo, and on October 25 in Porto Alegre.