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Why Julian Casablancas Is Better Off Without the Strokes

Julian Casablancas + the Voidz

Julian Casablancas + the Voidz

Julian Casablancas + the Voidz | First Avenue | Monday, November 17
For the Strokes' frontman Julian Casablancas, the time is right to leave his old group behind completely.

While the platinum-selling, festival-headlining Strokes played a significant part in the turn-of-the-century resurgence of the New York rock 'n' roll scene, their last three albums have been mostly devoid of both passion and ingenuity. Whatever inspiration and creativity Casablancas has left in him should be directed towards his own projects and not the moribund remains of his once-great band.

Striking out on your own without the cache and drawing power of your previous group can derail an artist's career, while also damaging the commercial appeal of the bandmates they left behind -- but sometimes sticking around can do just as much damage.

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At the start of 2001, the Strokes' Modern Age EP helped bring a feisty quality into the long-declining New York rock scene, and their debut full length, Is This It, remains one of the best records of the 21st century. Their worthy follow-up, Room On Fire, is an underrated gem that found the band honing their insouciantly cool sound and indelible hooks, but it represented a peak in creativity that the group hasn't managed to approach in the past decade.

First Impressions of Earth, the woefully dreadful Angles, and the meandering Comedown Machine found the band losing the plot while coming apart at the seams. Julian didn't even bother to record with the band during the sessions for Angles, and his detached vocal contributions to Comedown Machine give the impression of an artist not concerned or emotionally connected with the songs or the band itself.

Casablancas proved he had plenty more to offer on his first solo album, which arrived during the Strokes' lengthy hiatus in the mid-aughts. Released in 2009, Phrazes For The Young is better than the past decade of output from the Strokes. Don't believe me? Give it a listen, you'll be pleasantly surprised. On that often overlooked album Casablancas sounds inspired, and the vibrant, electronic-driven material embodies the spirit of a musician who is clearly having fun making music once again.

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Casablancas' new venture with the Voidz continues along that same unbridled musical path. Their first album emerged earlier this year with darker, more somber undertones. The erratic, often unpredictable songs on their debut album, Tyranny, don't all hit home (and lack the focus of his Phrazes work) but at least Casablancas is taking some songwriting risks these days instead of the safe, pedestrian numbers the Strokes have been churning out as of late.

The first two rapid-fire Strokes shows in the Entry back in '01 were boozy, cocksure performances by a band who knew that they had the best set of songs in the world at the time. As their popularity grew, so did the size of the rooms they played in, and their tame, all-too-brief Orpheum show in '02 found the personality-deprived band swallowed up by the large theater setting.

They have since grown to festival-headliner status all over the world, but their sound has never been suited for such large-scale performances, and the recent sets I've seen pale in comparison to those combustible early shows in the intimate Entry. Casablancas doesn't have the stadium-sized persona necessary to connect with audiences of that scale, anyway, which is another reason Julian should continue to tour the smaller clubs with his side-projects and put those big festival days behind him.

Trust me, I'd love another killer album from the Strokes as much as anyone. However, judging by the anemic dreck that they have offered up to us over the course of their last three records, it is clear that the late-period comeback album is just not in them and is unfortunately never going to arrive.

Nothing will ever diminish the striking sonic brilliance of Is This It or Room On Fire, but it seems that the Strokes will never be able to replicate those creative triumphs, either. Everyone in the Strokes have side-projects that they can devote themselves to now, so they should all just start a new creative chapter in their lives and put a final end to their stale band that has sadly outstayed their welcome and outgrown their usefulness.

So, it's high time for Julian to cut his losses as well as his ties to his four old friends in the Strokes, and move on to side-projects like the Voidz or whatever else comes next for him. He is better off without the Strokes -- and the lofty expectations and comparisons that come along with it.

Julian Casablancas & the Voidz. With Har Mar Superstar and Ripper. 18+, $25, 7:30 p.m. Monday, November 17 at First Avenue. Tickets.

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