Beating the Rush

Well, fuck me. Let’s hear it, and rather loudly this time, for Julian Casablancas. The man has really gone and done it: made good on the promise of his band’s first album while defying whatever expectations might have arisen in the wake of that record’s considerable success. You wouldn’t have thought it possible, not even if you didn’t like Is This It, the Strokes’ universally-discussed debut. How could a band so wholly devoured by the buzz they’d generated break free from their self-made shackles? The Knack never managed to answer the question correctly, and now look at them.

And so it’s with great delight that we here at Last Plane to Jakarta are jumping out ahead of the backlashing and giving you the God’s honest truth: True Tales from the Rev0lution, the follow-up to Is This It, slays dragons six ways to Sunday. From the rotator-cuff-bursting skreee of the opening “Me and Les Hydropathes” to the rock-orgy caterwauling of “Not Turning Thirty,” the eight-minute jam that closes out True Tales’ second disc, it’s pure gravy & no giblets.

Where to begin? Certainly this was the very question being answered when the Strokes picked “Me and Les Hydropathes” for the album opener here: its opening line, “I win again,” picking up where Is This It left off. It’s pure Detroit garage rock cleaned up & newly oiled, just like you’d expect, as the song charges along through two verses and a chorus. First impressions count, certainly, and listeners to True Tales will probably be thinking “hey, it sounds a lot like the last album” for those two verses. Fair enough, and good enough. But it’s the solo that comes between that chorus and the third verse that counts.

It’s the solo that counts, because it isn’t a guitar solo. It’s a tuba. Yes, a tuba. How they’re going to pull this off live I don’t know -- it’s hell trying to look glamorous with a tuba in your lap, to say nothing of trying to play one standing up -- but on disc, as in that slogan that’s been appropriated by every business firm in the country by now, it just makes sense. The fat liquid notes roll out bubbling triplets as if everybody’s already agreed that rock and roll, at its core, has always been about brass. It’s completely unbelievable. And when the solo ends as sharply and abruptly as it began, and Casablancas keens his way back into the verse with a yowling “Well, come on,” the most surprising thing about it is just how naturally the whole thing comes together.

As unexpected as the tuba solo, though, is the old-school hip-hop beat that announces the stunning second track, “Kaspar.” With west coast DJ Walt Liquor providing his signature squirrels-gone-crazy scratching, one feels a creeping dread as four bars turns over to eight: is Casablancas actually going to rap? It can’t be. It mustn’t. Visions of one-star Rolling Stone reviews proclaiming the sudden death by bludgeoning of the New Rock flash hotly through one’s mind, while the inner Strokes fan starts making justifications: it worked for Mike Skinner, rap needs a breath of fresh air, it’s always a good idea to piss off the fanbase. Eight bars of hand-recreated 808 gives way to twelve, and then it happens. Julian raps. In German.

The first time I heard it my jaw hit the floor and I still have the scrape-marks to prove it. It’s brilliant is what it is: reacting to the “It” band who replaced them in the music papers, the Strokes pick up the challenge laid down by the Streets while deferring it completely. Cool? Uncool? How can one say, not being able to understand German and all? I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sound a little like Falco, but then Falco never had the world’s tightest garage combo behind him, or the Neptunes assisting with his production. Oh, yes, did I mention the Neptunes? Of course they’re all over True Tales, their contributions tastefully spread out across the album’s twenty-plus tracks, providing lift where it’s needed and enough bass resonance to stop an advancing army.

To say too much would spoil the fun, but at least a word is needed regarding that album-closing jam. Featuring guest contributions from Kevin Shields, J. Mascis, and (in what will be seen in the future as a turning point in the construction of indie credential) Gregg Allman, “Not Turning Thirty” stares death directly in the face and spits in its eye. It does so by taking perhaps the sole unchampioned genre left -- the rock jam -- and playing it as if it were the single most vital thing going. The rush-rush of the ride cymbal recalls the Allman Brothers at their most transcendent, and the slithering guitar-lines wed Hendrix to Malkmus and come out sounding both tortured and cruel. Any person who doesn’t make the classic air-guitar face during the song’s closing three-guitars-trading-off solo should be considered suspect and potentially dangerous. There is just too much soul in here for anyone not to hear it.

As with the last Strokes album, there are going to be people who refuse to believe the hype -- as if truly vital things are really in need of any hype. If it’s crucial to our survival, then we’re duty-bound to wallow in our dependence on it. And so, here at LPTJ, we are making no bones about it. Whatever else may be said in the coming year about True Tales from the Rev0lution, we’ve got to call it like we see it. It’s a hip-hop/brass-band/clean-garage masterpiece. It’s excessive and over-the-top and it’s never quite enough. It’s just what you need. It’s just what we all need.

You heard it here first.





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