The Strokes: "Under Cover of Darkness"


By Maura McAndrew | 24 February 2011

The Strokes just released a new single. It’s called “Under Cover of Darkness” and it’s from their long-anticipated fourth album, Angles. Is it good? Well, sure—it’s fun, with a great squealing guitar riff courtesy of Albert Hammond Jr. and some acceptably ragged Julian Casablancas vocals. Tentatively speaking, it seems more…Strokes-like than the disappointing First Impressions of Earth (2006). They’re back to being themselves, or maybe just doing what they think we want them to do.

If this single is any indication, Angles will probably be a perfectly satisfying album, even a great one. But what does that mean to us, the fans, anymore? The Strokes now exist out of the context so important to their rise; since they’ve been gone, music’s changed and we’ve grown up and other stuff’s gotten cool. I want to keep loving them, but not the way they are now. I just want to love them the way they used to be. “Under Cover of Darkness” brings up a lot of conflicting feelings, and it’s bumming me out.

I was eighteen when the Strokes’ debut Is This It was released. In another time, Is This It would seem like an accomplishment, but in 2001 it seemed like a miracle. As many in my generation have noted, the turn of the millennium was a national nightmare for popular music. The scourge of Durst, Spears, bands with names like Puddle of Mudd, and singers with hair like Mark McGrath nearly ground my high school soul to dust. I stopped watching MTV. My college admissions essay was a rant against boy bands. Things were dire, and it was unclear what it would take to save them.

Granted, we had a few lifelines: Radiohead was one, but they were nerds. They were like me, but smarter, and maybe a little uglier. But the Strokes weren’t like me at all. They were dumb, dirty, sexy, rock ’n’ roll. They arrived during my freshmen year in college, my first away from my small town. “Last Night” filtered out of dorm rooms like hookah smoke. We all started wearing blazers and Chuck Taylors. Exotic boys from places like Oregon and New Jersey smoked and got Julian Casablancas haircuts. Everyone had that same Rolling Stone pinup tacked to their walls: a young band, painfully good looking, leather jackets, tight jeans, a New York City street. Shamelessly aping their heroes, some said, but they became ours.

From 2001 to 2004, the Strokes released two complete, consistent, great albums back-to-back. They were credited, alongside the White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with reviving garage rock. I never did get to see them play live; their shows were always sold out. It was almost a blessing, in a way, that First Impressions of Earth didn’t become their big statement, their Grammy-bait, the album that changed them and their place in rock history. Because they were perfect already.

All I can say is that “Under Cover of Darkness” is a good Strokes song. But for me, the Strokes exist back in my college dorm room, in the pocket (next to Radiohead?) of my favorite old corduroy blazer with the vaguely political lapel buttons. I loved it, that blazer, but I can’t wear it anymore. It wouldn’t look the same. And sometimes, no matter how much you love an old blazer, you can’t be expected to hold onto that love forever.