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On Virtue, Julian Casablancas Scorches The Strokes’ Legacy And Leaps Into The Voidz

Back in January, over the course of less than 24 hours and with zero advance notice, the Voidz dropped a pair of new songs. On Tuesday the 23rd, it was “Leave It In My Dreams,” and on Wednesday the 24th, it was “QYURRYUS.” It was their first new music in more than three years, and it was a lot, on at least a couple levels, all at once. I assume somebody involved in the decision-making process realized it would be a lot, maybe even too much. And somebody must have warned against such a counterintuitive approach, somebody must have wanted it to go a different way. But no. Somebody else — at least one person — said no. No, it had to be this way.

And, well, that was that. This is the way it was, and this is the way it shall be.

Anyway, I dunno if these things were being promoted as “singles,” in the conventional sense, or whether everybody in the Voidz’ camp had fully signed-off on this exact rapid-fire rollout strategy, but even if the precise timing was a little unusual, the listening experience wholly reflected the artist’s intentions. These were not just the first new Voidz tracks introduced to the world, but also the first two tracks you will hear when you press play on the Voidz’ new album, Virtue.

If you are reading these words in 2018, there is almost literally no chance you are not already aware of the following facts, but I will include them nonetheless (just in case we have any anthropologists from the Year 3000 in the audience):

The Voidz are a six-man band whose frontman and primary creative director is New York City native Julian Casablancas. And Julian Casablancas first came to international prominence in his early 20s — this was back in 2001 — with a five-man band called the Strokes, for which he also served as frontman and primary creative director.

No, wait … that last verb should probably be in present-tense, actually: He serves the Strokes in that capacity. As of March 2018, as far as I know, Julian Casablancas is still a member of the Strokes.

Speaking of verb tenses, it actually wasn’t all that long ago when the Strokes last released new music. In 2016 they put out the three-song Future Present Past EP. (Which is four songs, technically, if you count the remix of “OBLIVIUS,” but the inclusion of that one in the first place seems fucking weird. As made clear by the EP’s title, the tracklist is supposed to reflect this really not-complicated future/present/past concept — one song for each stage — and tacking on a fourth sorta throws all that out the window.)

When I first listened to Future Present Past, I thought it was a total throwaway. I didn’t go back to it, and I didn’t bother writing about it. I guess I didn’t get it. I went back to it a few days ago — while writing whatever the hell it is you’re reading now — and the whole thing made more sense. The songs are pretty good. I still don’t think it’s anything ultra-special on its own, but it makes for an interesting companion to Virtue.

We’ll come back to that somewhere down the line, but we still gotta get through those initial 24 hours. So: “Leave It In My Dreams” hit first and it felt like a gift. Then we got “QYURRYUS” and it felt like a troll-job. That’s not a criticism of the music, just an assessment of the music’s impact upon arrival. I love “QYURRYUS.” I love “Leave It In My Dreams” even more. I’d use this space to write about why I love those songs, but I already did that someplace else — I already wrote so much about them that I can’t justify writing more.

Still, in hindsight, I probably could have written better: The songs came so fast that I didn’t really have time to think about what I was writing, and I definitely didn’t have time to think about what their author was writing. Which is how we all wind up with shit like this:

What’s going on with the verses? Is he singing in German? Some other Teutonic language? Or is he singing in English but affecting an intense and ridiculous German accent, obscuring his English-language lyrics to the point of making them totally unintelligible? No idea. This thing is such a wild ride!

That’s from my post about “QYURRYUS.” (My post about “Leave It In My Dreams” is a little less nutty, although it’s still pretty nutty in its own way, tbh.) Two days later, on the 26th, Julian took to Twitter to clarify:

altho seeing some of the misinterpreted versions was personally hilarious, had to put an end to the madness

And with that, Julian tweeted lyric-sheet screen shots for both “Leave It In My Dreams” and “QYURRYUS.” Regarding the latter: It appears the guy was indeed singing in English! And once I saw the words written out on a page, I found them to be a lot more intelligible in the context of the song itself.

So … huh. Whattya know. Welp. What was it I wrote? “Some other Teutonic language”? Jesus fucking Christ.

I SOUND LIKE A DICK!

That right there is me doing my impersonation of Jason Lee in Almost Famous. I do that one a lot. You ever see Almost Famous? It’s been a minute since I last watched it, but I can hear that line — Jason Lee, upon reading aloud some doofus shit he said in an interview a week earlier, screaming “I SOUND LIKE A DICK!” — as clearly as if it were playing in my living room right now. That’s my line. I hear that thing on an internal loop anytime I read back anything I’ve written … but only after (and pretty much immediately after) it’s been published, of course.

In the case of “QYURRYUS,” though, I sorta didn’t mind sounding like a dick. Truly. Deep down, I was actually pretty happy Julian waited a few days before sharing the “real” lyrics. If you’re a writer, you just want a good sentence, and while “hilarious” isn’t generally preferable to “accurate,” in this case, it kinda worked out in my favor. I like “hilarious.” The truth would have been objectively better, yes, but maybe … it would have been a little more boring? My version, on the other hand, was weird and hyperactive and hysterical. The song is weird and hyperactive and hysterical. In that way, my version was superior. For me, anyway.

Still, if you’re curious (or qyurryus), the lyrics in question — the ones I flubbed — actually go like this:

Hot track, hot dress
Undressing this hot mess

On the 29th, the Voidz’ publicist shared with me an advance stream of Virtue. I listened to that thing the second it landed in my inbox and … oh, man. You wanna talk about being a lot? Well, Virtue is a lot. And I wanted to talk about it, because it gave me a lot to talk about. Before I knew what the fuck I was even hearing, I knew I was gonna write about Virtue for Stereogum. As such, I didn’t want to be out here making more wild guesses and “hilarious” mistakes. So I replied to the publicist, asking for a copy of the lyrics to go alongside the music. Explaining my request, I wrote:

If I bungle one of his lines it’ll be a distraction and a drag for both of us.

“Both of us,” in this case, meaning me and Julian. It coulda meant me and Julian’s publicist, or it coulda meant me and you: the person to whom I am right now speaking, whenever it is you get around to reading these words, whoever you are. “Both of us” meaning me and whoever. Whoever and whoever. Whatever. The publicist got back to me like five minutes later, lyric sheet attached, and two minutes after that, I realized … I was doomed. Half the lyrics in that document were straight-up, somehow, deliberately wrong. Maybe not half — maybe, I dunno, one-fifth. But enough to make me realize I was gonna have to pay extra-close attention, because Julian wasn’t about to make this easy for anybody.

The song in particular that got me running for the lyrics — the moment when it dawned on me, no question, I had to make sure everything I was hearing was, in fact, everything Julian was saying — was “Lazy Boy.” I knew, no matter what I wrote, that I wanted to quote “Lazy Boy,” at least one line from “Lazy Boy.” I’m gonna quote a line from “Lazy Boy” right now, in fact. This is not the line I wanted to quote — we’ll get to that — but it’s one I need to address up front.

Everything I say is everything you wanna hear

The first time I heard that line, it sounded like an expression of ennui, and that’s how I interpreted it. That worked for my thesis. That helped prove my thesis. After a while, though, I heard it a different way. I heard it as an expression of both authorial intent and a recognition of reader response. Both played perfectly, and if I kept thinking about it, I probably would have seen three or four other probable possibilities. Julian does this a lot, and a lot on Virtue: He fucks around with the flexibility, failability, pliability, and possibility of words (or wordz), and he builds them into lines that can be read in any number of ways, depending on your angle.

So: My first impressions of that “Lazy Boy” line weren’t necessarily wrong, but my second take was equally, possibly, right. Maybe righter? Writers? Any ideas? Anyone? Anyway, ennui or otherwise, I decided the line in question was an answer in advance; it was Julian telling me that I was gonna interpret his lyrics in whatever way I wanted to interpret them. And he is telling you the same thing. Both of us — me and you — will hear everything we wanna hear in everything he says.

Now, me and you, we might hear different things when we listen to Virtue. I can’t say. I also can’t say what Julian is saying — not with any certainty, at least — but I am going to tell you what I hear.

***

So, like, listen. Hear me out, because, like I said, this is a lot. This is a story about Julian Casablancas … and a story about the Voidz … and a story about the Strokes. It is a story about all those things, but one thing it is not is: a story about me.

Still, it might help you to know a few things about me so you can get a better idea why I am telling this story, where it comes from.

Like Julian Casablancas, I am also a New York City native, and I’ve been following Julian’s career since the beginning. Back then, he and I ran in similar circles, and everybody in my circle had a whole lot to say about the Strokes. In one way or another, I guess, they all had some kind of stake in the Strokes. Or they acted like they did. That’s because everybody in my circle was either in a band or in “the biz” or both. But not me, man. I was nobody: a no-profile dirtbag who worked the floor at this tiny fucking record shop in the West Village, and a no-hope writer who couldn’t get into a half-decent MFA program. So I had nothing to gain and nothing to lose. I just watched and listened.

There was a lot to take in. There was a whole lotta trash talk: the product of envy, mostly, and fear, I think, but also some legit genuine befuddlement. And all those feelings came as a result of the truly wild Strokes hype being thrown around by everybody outside our circles. Strokes-mania. It came overnight, it felt like, from people who lived in England. People who lived in Japan. People who lived uptown. (Or people who worked uptown, I guess.) It was like nothing we’d ever seen before — and almost two decades later, I still haven’t seen anything else quite like it.

Anyway, like I said, I couldn’t get into a half-decent MFA program, so I just wrote for practice. I wrote about the kids who I knew, and the city where we lived, and the music that we listened to, and the scene that we had. And I wrote about the Strokes because I couldn’t not write about the Strokes, the same way Nick Carraway couldn’t not write about Jay Gatsby. If you’re a writer, you just want a good story, and the Strokes were the best fucking story. Also, frankly, they were everywhere I looked — sometimes literally — whether or not I was looking for them: magazines, bars, streets, clothes, conversations, ambitions, shadows, reflections. Even if I didn’t want to write about them, in one way or another, I woulda been writing about them. But man, I was lucky. I loved writing about them.

I didn’t know anything about the Strokes’ internal process or dynamic, but Julian was the guy I kept my eye on, because he did the words — I knew that much — and the words were the thing I noticed about the Strokes. It occurs to me now that I actually probably shoulda been as jealous as everybody around me, but I think I was too shitty of a writer to even know to be jealous. So instead, I was just enchanted. I’d be in my apartment listening to a Strokes song, and then that dude would sing maybe two lines, and suddenly I’d be someplace else. For a split second, in my head, I was outside: not in the city as it exists in reality, but the city as it exists in my imagination, in dopamine flashes of memory or anticipation, and no place else.

I know this reads like … I mean it reads like bad writing, honestly, but it’s a real thing that really happened, I swear; it’s just that I don’t have better words. Better writers do. Colson Whitehead, for instance, once wrote this essay — this was also in 2001, come to think of it — that sorta described the thing I’m talking about: the not-real New York City that is yours if you are a New Yorker, when you are a New Yorker. It is at this moment when you become a New Yorker: when you start building your New York City in your imagination without understanding you’re doing it. You belong to the city now, because the city belongs to you.

Now look: Colson Whitehead is a godlike writer, and truthfully, I can’t even read that essay straight-through anymore because it makes me feel too much, too hard. It is too good. But Whitehead was describing the concept of that dream city in the abstract; he had recognized this subconscious phenomenon and was wrestling it into consciousness. Julian, though: That kid could sorta-sing, like, a dozen words and just like that, I was there, in that place.

I didn’t know nothing about anything, but I knew enough to take notice of that. I started paying careful attention to the words Julian was using, the way he was using them, because I couldn’t understand how he was doing what he was doing. And once I started reading, I couldn’t believe how fucking good he was. All these layers, all this imagery, all this poise and grace and thought, all captured with the economy and ease of a poet or a Polaroid. At, what, 20? It’s obscene. Maybe you don’t hear it. But I do. And I did. I clocked it on the very first verse of the very first song that we ever got from that band.

Up on a hill, here’s where we begin
This little story, a long time ago
Stop to pretend, stop pretending
It seems this game is simply never-ending

How the fuck do you do that? How do you know to do that? How do you choose those words and arrange them in that order and stop and know? How do you fucking know?

Seriously: Did he even know? I mean, he must have intended for the “little story/long time” pairing, but what else? “Up on a hill”? Did he know that the name Manhattan is a derivation of the Lenape word Manna-hata, which translates as, “island of many hills”? No way. Did he? Did he know, in 2001, how that whole verse would resonate in 2018? Did he even know how it would resonate in 2001? Did he always know that verse was going to be his introduction to the world, the beginning? Did he know from the beginning that he was ending the first line of the first verse of the first song with “begin” and ending the last line with “ending”?

Julian Casablancas was writing the story of the Strokes before anybody had even heard the Strokes. And he was writing it better than everybody else who was trying to write that story. We were dancing about architecture. He was building a metropolis in the clouds.

And yet, 20 is too young to know everything. Some things need some years. Julian wrote the “where it begins” section better than anybody, maybe anybody ever. What he didn’t realize, I don’t think, was how the finale would play out. He didn’t know, for example, that “never-ending” is the worst kind of ending. He must have known that it’s better to burn out than it is to rust — everybody knows that — but maybe he didn’t know that rust never sleeps. Maybe he didn’t know that the game was rigged. Maybe he didn’t know that the little story of the Strokes had already been written. A long time ago.

***

Can we talk about Almost Famous again? (Is this an episode of I Love Films?) Does anybody remember Almost Famous? It’s a Cameron Crowe movie that came out in 2000, with a screenplay based on some remarkable real-life experiences from the writer/director’s own adolescence. Here’s where we begin:

The year is 1973, and 15-year-old aspiring music writer William (played by Patrick Fugit) has just stumbled into an assignment for Rolling Stone: 3,000 words on Stillwater, a rock quartet on the road, opening for Black Sabbath in arenas across North America. Stillwater are building momentum for the release of their third LP and expectations are high. This is the album that will take them from tour buses to charter jets, from arena opener to arena headliner. This is the album that will put them on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Throughout the film, William is mistaken for being older than his actual years, which is how he stumbles into the Rolling Stone gig. One of the magazine’s top editors, Ben Fong-Torres (played by Terry Chen), asks William for pitches, but doesn’t need him to say anything after the word “Stillwater.” Within about three seconds, Fong-Torres is sketching a story outline like he’s arranging Scrabble tiles at a tournament:

New album … their third … starting to do something. Stillwater: Hard-working band makes good. Get ‘em to respond to the critics who dismissed the first two albums as workmanlike. Guitarist is the clear star of the band. Crazy.

Here, “crazy” is not intended to mean “crazy”; it’s just slang for “cool” or “perfect” or “we understand one another.” But the two people on either end of that phone call do not understand one another. William is 15 years old. He hasn’t even graduated high school. He claims to “really love” Stillwater; in his eyes, they are a “really good” band. Fong-Torres, on the other hand, is a senior editor at Rolling Stone. He’s interviewed Bob Dylan and edited Hunter S. Thompson. He sees Stillwater for what they are (or what they shall forever be): a narrative trope, a familiar story with fresh characters, a cliche. They are column filler. They are food for the beast, nothing more.

William’s other professional connection, the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), is somehow even more cynical. Bangs declares rock ‘n’ roll “over,” he calls Stillwater “worthless rock stars” and Rolling Stone “swill merchants,” but he’s fond of William, so he helps him out. When William is having trouble delivering the story envisioned by Fong-Torres, Bangs tells the kid to stall his editor by countering with a more nuanced narrative trope, a different cliche. Says Bangs:

Here’s what you do — let’s fry his mind. Tell him, “it’s a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom.” Ha ha!! This is fun!

Bangs’ angle is darker than the one initially proposed by Fong-Torres, but the point is: They’re both angles. They belong to the writer. Stillwater are just characters in service of a plot. Their story has already been written. William just has to decide on an angle and report that fucker.

The people in Stillwater, however, are all too eager to play the parts they’ve been assigned, to offer themselves to the jaws of the beast. The guys in the band promptly spout off inane platitudes that make Fong-Torres’ and Bangs’ shorthand appraisals of the band look like Chekhov stories. When William first meets Stillwater guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup), the musician offers a soliloquy of narrative tropes and cliches:

Rock and roll is a LIFESTYLE … and a way of thinking and it’s not about money and “popularity!” It’s a voice that says here I am… and FUCK YOU if you can’t understand me. And one of those people is gonna save the world and that means that ROCK AND ROLL CAN SAVE THE WORLD — all of us together.

If Bangs and Fong-Torres were to read that quote, they would surely roll their eyes. Those guys created those myths. They wrote them into history. That’s their bullshit. To hear a band like Stillwater repeating that stuff as gospel? What a fucking joke.

William doesn’t get the joke, though. Once again: He is 15. He buys all this bullshit at face value. Turns out, Stillwater don’t get the joke either. As the film progresses, it is slowly revealed that Stillwater have been buying the same bullshit for so long that they are now selling it. They don’t even clock it as bullshit. At one point, during a backstage argument, Stillwater singer Jeff (the aforementioned Jason Lee) confronts Russell with “the truth”:

From the very beginning — we said — I’m the frontman and you’re the guitarist with mystique. That’s the dynamic we agreed on — Page, Plant … Mick, Keith. But somehow it’s all turning around. We have got to control what’s happening to us. There’s a responsibility here …

Jeff wants Stillwater to stick to the original “dynamic,” the archetypal cliche: “Page, Plant… Mick, Keith.” THAT bullshit. That’s what they “agreed on.” That’s what got them here, and now, Russell has a “responsibility” to his fellow bandmates. Jeff reminds Russell that their collective achievements are inextricably interrelated. For better or worse, they got here together. Russell may be the guy who writes the songs, but he couldn’t have done this alone. They all did something.

That last thing, though, is actually not bullshit. It’s the opposite. That’s real. That’s life.

Russell knows it, too. In fact, this is his central conflict. He got here with these guys, but if he sticks with these guys, he won’t get any further. He’ll be trapped here — per his “agreement,” because he has a “responsibility” — doing the same thing, repeating the cycle, feeding the beast, playing out the narrative as it has been written. But what’s the alternative? It’s a complicated question. Where would he be today without his bandmates? Where would they be tomorrow if he were to leave? Where would he be tomorrow?

Trading on the media myth of the incalcitrant, elusive rock ‘n’ roll artiste, Russell coyly dodges William’s attempts to get him to sit down for a one-on-one interview. But William is persistent. He asks questions at every opportunity. Finally, he asks one that Russell can’t escape.

Now that you’re starting to be successful … do you worry that the pressure of the business will get in the way of the original joy of making your music?

Russell bobs and weaves for a couple beats, but he actually wants to talk about this. Not on-the-record, though. He just wants to talk, because this thing has been eating at him. He tells the kid to turn off his tape recorder, and here, he speaks openly.

I think about it every fucking night. The “business.” I hate it! [quietly] I grew up with these guys, OK? [They] can’t play all that I can play, I’m past these musicians, do you understand? The more popular we get, the more I can’t walk [out] on them, the bigger their houses get, the more pressure… you forget, man. You forget what it was like to be real, to be a fan. You can hear it in a lot of bands who’ve been successful — it doesn’t sound like music anymore. It sounds like … like lifestyle maintenance.

That’s a deft bit of writing on Crowe’s part. I’ve seen Almost Famous half a dozen times (at least), but I didn’t catch this tiny detail till I sat down with the script: this echo, courtesy of Russell. First, defiantly, “Rock and roll is a LIFESTYLE.” Later, dolefully, “bands who’ve been successful — it doesn’t sound like music anymore. It sounds like … like lifestyle maintenance.”

All these emphases are in the script — at least the script I saw. Crowe intended for the word “lifestyle” to be delivered with weight in each case, to be spoken by the same character but given diametrically opposite definitions in each statement. (Julian does this a lot in his own writing, especially on Virtue, which is like a labyrinth of double-meanings and deliberately distorted echoes.) In the case of “lifestyle,” both usages are true:

(1) Rock ‘n’ roll is a lifestyle. The iconic rock bands help to define and embody that lifestyle, and the media elevates them in such a way that their lifestyle is galvanized and mythologized, making that lifestyle a self-perpetuating concept, a caricature of “life,” and, eventually, a cliche. However, of course, it is also true that:

(2) When rock bands have become successful, they make decisions a whole lot differently than they did while they were on the way up, especially when the band members have actual lives outside the band, and most especially when they have to pay mortgages and/or raise kids. The second-line guys push back against autocracy, against anything that might threaten or compromise their individual investments and interests, because they have something to protect and something to lose. They deserve a say! This band is their livelihood!

Sometimes, of course, management refuses to negotiate with labor; the autocrats just go John Galt on the rhythm section and hire a few scabs on a permalance basis. And sometimes those cold-blooded bastards can get away with it. Some guys do ‘em even dirtier. The real cutthroat motherfuckers here — Axl, Corgan, Paul and Gene from KISS — straight-up fire everybody, wait for them to bounce a few checks, and then re-hire those poor losers at replacement-level salaries.

But that doesn’t work for your benevolent dictators or your empathetic-type humans. And it definitely doesn’t work if your band is — whether contractually, publicly, or actually — a team.

In those cases, the generals cede power, because they are either compassionate or cornered, and the whole vehicle invariably drifts toward the middle of the road, gets put on cruise control, and every backseat driver takes a turn at the wheel. They obey the rules of the road to a fault. Everybody holds everybody else accountable for every miscalculation resulting in any perceived loss. Nobody wants to be on the hook for a bottom line that falls short of projections, so as a unit, they become more conservative, less adventurous. The music starts sounding the same as it did when they first achieved success, but it’s not the same. It’s always a little bit less exciting than it was back then. I won’t go so far as to say that “it doesn’t sound like music anymore,” but there’s no question: It absolutely does sound like lifestyle maintenance, because that’s what it is.

This is the cold, hard, off-the-record truth reached by every band — every single one — that lasts long enough to get there. This is a narrative trope that doesn’t get too much play in the media (outside The Onion) because bands know better than to tell this story. They can’t afford to tell this story. (Literally.) They tend to speak in other cliches: We’re going back to our roots, or we’re trying something new and we’ve never been better, or, the upcoming album is the best thing we’ve done since the classic album.

Privately, these people grow to resent one another, to see one another as obstacles or albatrosses or divas. They grow distant from one another, finding alternate outlets for creative fulfillment, and begin to see their day-job band as just that: a day job. They don’t quit their day job, but they start to mail it in a little bit. They don’t talk shit about their co-workers — unless doing so in off-the-record capacities — but sometimes, their frustrations can be read in the subtext of the things they do offer to the public.

This is the story of every band that survives, and it is also the story of most bands that die. This is the story of the Strokes … and by extension, the story of the Voidz … and thus, naturally, the story of Julian Casablancas. It is also the story told — in subtext and song — throughout the Voidz’ new album, Virtue.

So let’s cut the bullshit and unpack the subtext and kill our idols, right here, right now. Let’s undress this hot mess and tell that story.

***

Back in the waning days of 2005, when the Strokes were doing press for their own third album — the one with high expectations and elevated tax-bracket potential for the band and its business associates — Julian ducked glossy-magazine interviewers just like Russell did with William: avoiding, cancelling, rescheduling, ghosting. Except Julian wasn’t pulling that move on a 15-year-old kid — he was doing it to motherfucking Jay McInerney, the author of Bright Lights, Big City. (McInenery: “I’m too fucking old to be waiting around on some egomaniacal 27-year-old who’s flexing his self-importance after studying Chapter Two of Rockstar 101, by Mick Jagger. And come to think of it, Jagger was only 20 minutes late when I met him for a profile in the mid-’80s.”)

The album in question — First Impressions Of Earth, released in January 2006 — kinda bricked. It sold half as well as the previous Strokes album, 2003’s Room On Fire, which had sold half as well as Is This It. This ain’t it! Cancel the charter jets, get back on the bus. (I could talk about this subject for two months, but I already did all that two years ago.) In its aftermath, the Strokes went on a half-decade hiatus. Since First Impressions, Julian has released two non-Strokes LPs; his third will street this week. Every one of those albums has a different artist’s name alongside its title: 2009’s Phrazes For The Young is credited to Julian Casablancas; 2014’s Tyranny is credited to Julian Casablancas + The Voidz; the upcoming Virtue is credited to the Voidz. The only through line is that little “z” appearing where spellcheck would prefer an “s.” I don’t know if that particular substitution counts as subtext or if it’s just a Freudian zlip, but you can draw your own conclusions.

Perhaps the greatest difference between the Strokes and the Voidz is this: Julian can no longer get away with playing the role of absentee enigma while his co-workers charm the press. He can’t have a cold. This is his thing, and if he doesn’t promote it, nobody will pay attention. If nobody pays attention, nobody will realize he’s doing this thing, his thing. Everybody who does realize will assume this is an inessential lark, a low-stakes curiosity unworthy of serious consideration. A solo project? A side project? Other? Either way, point is, if nobody recognizes the Voidz as being A Big Deal, everybody will forever operate under the belief that the Strokes are Julian’s primary artistic outlet — especially if the Strokes are still a semi-active unit, headlining festivals around the world — and Julian will be stuck doing lifestyle maintenance for eternity.

So: If he wants to be remembered for making the music he wants to make (and not just the music that made him famous), he has to put some distance between his two bands. And to do that, he has to put himself out there. He has to promote it.

That doesn’t always go so great. When you read interviews with Julian Casablancas, you get a better idea of why he wasn’t especially interested in doing interviews in the first place. For example: this Virtue-promoting one-on-one Q&A with David Marchese of Vulture (coincidentally the arts-and-culture vertical of New York Magazine, the same publication that hired McInerney to do a cover story on the Strokes a dozen years back). Top to bottom, the interview is a bit of a train wreck for Julian — he says some shit that is outlandish to the point of being delusional to the point of being demonstrably inaccurate and/or woefully misinformed. But when it comes to the issue of the Strokes, he’s actually fairly reserved and diplomatic, assuming you skip the subtext. Here are the salient exchanges:

Given where your interests lie, is being in the Strokes at all inspiring?

That’s not where my focus is. To me, the Strokes — I was thinking about it earlier today. I may have been fooling myself but back in the beginning it was good and I was loving what we were doing. I just wanted to musically progress in certain ways. You have to be super hard with yourself. We would do demos and people would want to put them out and I’d be like, “This is not good. Let’s move on.” I did the same thing with the Strokes. I was like, “This is fine but I want to move forward.” I want to evolve and do something even more challenging: Black Sabbath, Nirvana, some Doors stuff — music that’s not mainstream but breaks into the mainstream.

The Voidz is obviously a fulfilling outlet for you. Is there fulfillment that you only get from the Strokes? Or is being in that band not about that kind of emotion anymore?

To be honest, this question reminded me — I just saw Annihilation, and I was talking to someone about how Natalie Portman was also in the Thor movies and thinking that was interesting. She was mind-blowing in Annihilation, and I just thought she probably does some things out of passion and certain things that are more pay-the-bills. I think actors do that and it doesn’t mean they don’t like what they’re working on. It’s a different kind of energy. That situation may be similar to me and the bands I play in.

OK, maybe it’s not exactly “diplomatic,” but it’s unspecific enough to allow everyone involved to walk away with their dignity more or less intact. It doesn’t damage the Strokes brand. They can still top-line GovBall with that. I mean … these aren’t compliments by any means, but put those quotes into the context of that interview: This guy just mansplained a whole spiel about how Jimi Hendrix topped out at #300 on the charts. “He didn’t have hits.” This claim is verifiably inaccurate, and Julian just gets smacked into the ground when this is pointed out to him. But then he digs himself in even deeper! The whole thing is just so bad. So it could have been worse. Julian could have buried the Strokes — totally inadvertently, just because he was already burying himself — but instead, he left it at, “That’s not where my focus is.”

When he addresses the subject of his old band (and his old life) on Virtue, he is equally unspecific, but he is spitting bright blue flame. In some ways, the vagueness makes these lines burn even hotter, because you know the people to whom they are directed will recognize themselves in these songs. Like, immediately. The rest of us, though, can just guess — and in doing so, apply these words to anyone and everyone. Everyone in this room is on fire.

Or are they? This is what I mean about “Everything I say is everything you wanna hear.” Maybe you won’t hear this stuff as being about the Strokes — and maybe it is not even intended to be about the Strokes. I hear it, though. I’ll tell you what I hear, or do my level best. Listen. Let’s listen together. While I talk non-stop. Cool? To back up my interpretations, I’m gonna pair some Virtue lyrics with quotes from old interviews given by Julian on the subject of his career and his relation ship with the Strokes. I’m gonna start with” Leave It In My Dreams.” Here’s the lyric:

And now I’ve taken too many hits
And I’m breaking off with all that stuff
“Anybody else want some…?”
That’s no good reason.

Maybe you hear that and think it’s about, like, drugs. Could be! Here’s what I hear, though (courtesy of Julian circa 2006 via NY Mag).

It’s like an inner struggle for me, between saying I don’t give a shit and trying to make it work. You want to do the right thing, but I’m sick of people thinking I’m difficult.

Got it?

Great!

Let’s do more. We can pull a line from “QYURRYUS”:

I lost what’s mine
Guess it was never mine

And pair it with another quote from that same ’06 piece:

I’m a little bit sad. People in our camp are making me feel bad about doing it the way I want to do it. They want me to do cheesy things. I feel like I’ve given up a lot of my fantasies, just in terms of how we do things. I just want to do things differently, and to a lot of people that’s annoying. I like weird stuff. I always hoped if we had a big success it would be on our own terms.

Here’s a line from Virtue track “Permanent High School”:

When did my joy break like a toy?
Tell me what we’re fighting for?
When did my dreams tear at the seam?
Put me on a different team…

Which echoes, I think, this 2010 exchange Julian had with Clash Music, talking about Phrazes For The Young:

You once said that you never really wanted to go solo — was it something that you were forced to do or felt compelled to do?

Yeah. I put my life into the Strokes. I was trying to pull back as much as possible to make other people bring songs to the band — if someone wrote a song they would be more likely to just put it on their own solo record than ever try to even bring it to the band, which is weird because we split everything equally. But anyway, this is all stuff in the past that we’ve worked out. These aren’t issues anymore, I’m just taking you back three or four years. We started working on the songs and people didn’t seem that into it, and then I found out that people were doing solo records, so I was like, “OK, this is not the right time. Why don’t you guys do what you gotta do.” Yeah, even though the band wasn’t spiritually ready for a record, I still felt like I had stuff to do. I was messing around with some keyboardy stuff… I kinda felt like I had to do something.

Still going, OK … here’s one from “All Wordz Are Made Up”:

In my mind, get up and I try it’s not that hard
Holding you to a standard that’s just too high
I don’t want everything — or understand anything

And here’s Julian in 2011, via The New York Times, on the subject of the Strokes’ super-strained “democratic” fourth album, Angles:

Mr. Casablancas eventually weighed in. “I would say roughly 60 percent of what they did I thought was rad and I didn’t touch, and then 40 percent I would either alter it or it got left behind,” he said. “I try to keep a high standard.”

“I think ‘collaboration Strokes’ is more on the side of just poppy than what I am interested in personally,” he added. “I’ll take what I can get, so I’m happy.”

Or, for example, you’ve got these lines from Virtue track “My Friend The Walls”:

Writing songs, close the door
All I know since ’94…
So I don’t want a giveaway
But I give it anyway

On the floor, close the door,
I can’t watch this anymore…

Which pair nicely with this from the aforementioned Clash Music story:

Yeah, like I said, I pulled back so much because I just wanted it to work and for people to be happy. I mean I’ve written all the Strokes’ guitar solos and a lot of the stuff, back in the day I was pretty involved on all levels, but for the future Strokes I’m trying really hard to pull away. But then when it wasn’t enough, people still kinda needed to go out and venture on their own. When I was doing the solo record, I was like, “OK, there’s zero compromise — I can do whatever I wanna do,” and I realized that I do enjoy that a lot.

All right, last one for now. A line from “Lazy Boy” — not the line, but one of the ones (of many):

Everything I play is everything you wanna hear
Jackets are the eyes to the soul
When it’s not that important the stronger man will back down

Which sounds a lot like this bit from the 2011 NYT piece:

“It’s just to get everyone happy,” Mr. Casablancas said evenly. “Operation Make Everyone Satisfied.”

“I definitely wanted to step back as much as possible,” Mr. Casablancas said. He believed his style would be a roadblock. “I’m just very opinionated.”

It’s kinda crazy to match these old quotes — some of which date back a dozen years — to new lyrics. (“Crazy” meaning “maybe I am crazy to do this.”) But then again, they’re not all old, and they’re not all that different from the Strokes-specific answers Julian gave to David Marchese in that nightmare Vulture interview a few weeks ago. If the questions don’t go away, and the Strokes are still here, too, then maybe my take is, like … not that crazy?

If the Strokes are still here. Which: Again, as far as I know, they are. Right? Last July, the musician Albert Hammond (SENIOR, i.e., father of Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.) told an Australian newspaper, “[The Strokes] are making a new album now with a great producer called Rick Rubin. I speak to my son every day and he says that they’re so happy.”

“Happy”? Were the Strokes ever happy? So … who? Wait. What?

Haha, nah. FALSE ALARM. Just some crossed wires. A day later, Albert Hammond Sr.’s son hopped on Twitter to make a quick statement, clarifying some of the finer points that had been misrepresented by his old man:

Sorry everyone we are not in the studio recording … We met and played a few music ideas for Rick to feel out a vibe but even a theoretical album plan would be years away, if at all.

Seriously: How awful does that sound? How fucking uncool is that? “A theoretical album plan” that is “years away”? The Strokes decamping to a relaxing-but-invigorating recording spa called THE MANSION tucked away in bucolic Laurel Canyon to make an album with the barefoot back-to-basics producer/guru behind such flavorless pablum as Stadium Arcadium, Death Magnetic, and Weezer’s “Red Album”? It would fit the narrative, to be sure, but that is the absolute wackest narrative: “sobered-up and slowed-down silver foxes/proud parents/yoga enthusiasts return to their rock roots after squandering goodwill during aimless second-act meltdown.”

That is the opposite of a good story. That is the opposite of good art. If Julian Casablacas is trying to communicate anything on Virtue it is this:

IF YOU EVER SEE ME MAKING A STROKES ALBUM WITH RICK RUBIN, PLEASE KILL ME.

Frankly, it sometimes sounds like he’s begging you to cut him down if you even see him on a stage with the Strokes. Here are some stray phrazes that come up throughout Virtue:

  • “For a flower to grow, the seed must die”
  • “Depressed, stressed, and oppressed”
  • “I surrender”
  • “Imma gonna quit”
  • “I want out of this world/ I didn’t want it anyway”
  • “I never wanted it to go that way”
  • “What does it matter?”

Remember a while back — someplace near the top of this little story, a long time ago — when I said there was a line in “Lazy Boy” that I knew I wanted to quote when I wrote about Virtue? Here’s the line I was talking about:

I don’t wanna be a puppet that the ghost of my young self still controls

Since we’re here, I’ll give you another line from that song:

I don’t wanna do it, I don’t wanna do this anymore

***

Really, though, do any of those guys wanna do this anymore? (“This” meaning “the Strokes.”) If so: Why? Time-machine time: Here are a couple non-Julian quotes from the First Impressions press cycle:

Guitarist Nick Valensi: “Julian eats, breathes, sleeps, and shits music. We’ll show up at the studio at noon, and he’ll be there in the studio till four in the morning. He doesn’t stop. Long after everyone else has gone home, he’s still like remixing stuff, trying out different things. He’s like an android. I get to the point where I can’t listen to music anymore and I have to stop, but Julian doesn’t. His ear is so sharp. He’s the one with the ear for detail in this band. Creatively, he is a force to be reckoned with. He’s difficult to work with, and a lot of times he has difficulty communicating, but he’s so creative.”

Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.: “When we first started, we went out on the road, all we had was each other. Now we’re working. Then we come home and have our own lives. It’s very sad.”

Bassist Nikolai Fraiture: “I don’t want my daughter to think of me as a Stroke. I want her to think of me as a father and eventually realize that that’s my job and I enjoy doing it. But it’s just something I do.”

This is exactly what I heard when I went back to listen to the Strokes’ Future Present Past EP (2016). The first two songs on that thing are “collaboration Strokes.” The third is credited solely to “J. Casablancas.” That third song is called “Threat Of Joy,” and it represents “the past,” and it is fucking ruthless. It opens with Julian doing a spoken-word thing clowning on somebody:

OH-KAY. I see how it is now. You don’t have time to play with me anymore. That’s how it goes … I guess.
Fuck the rest.
Be right there, honey!

And it actually gets uglier once he starts singing (“Oh yeah I want my money now/ But he ain’t not around”). There is almost no doubt in my mind: That song is 100% about the Strokes (“the past”). Period. To the extent I question my interpretation AT ALL, it’s only because I keep asking myself: How do you stay in a band when your singer is roasting you that bad on your own record?

How the fuck do you do that?

Actually, though, I know the answer to that one. I’ll throw it to Strokes drummer Fab Moretti, circa 2011:

I think we’re capable of working out our problems. That, or we’re all so stubborn, it’s a backhanded way of continuing: “I’m not going to break up the band so let’s go fucking make another record, you son of a bitch!”

Moretti is kinda joking, but what he describes as “a backhanded way of continuing” is, ultimately, the only way of continuing. You know why bands don’t break up? Because nobody is going to break up the band, because that would mean quitting, and quitting would mean surrendering a financial stake. Everybody wants their money now. And later. They want that Coachella money. They want that merch money. They got car payments and cell-phone bills and kids who need braces. They don’t have much in the way of “Professional Experience” on their CV. Maybe a few months at the Mansion isn’t the worst thing, all things considered. Maybe it doesn’t matter if nobody gets along, as long as everybody gets a writing credit.

That’s the story of every band that survives. Every. Single. One.

You know who knows that? Julian Casablancas. Here’s a 2014 quote he gave to GQ while doing press for the Voidz album Tyranny:

“I think when bands break up, that’s another form of lameness. It’s like: ‘Really? You need different private-jet sizes to get along?’ I can understand that as much as it’s my life and it might be a living hell for me — “

Here he pauses. “I’m not saying it is.

“But when you think of bands that you really like and then they broke up, it’s never a positive thing. It’s never cool.”

Julian Casablancas knows from cool, and he is right. When bands break up, it’s never cool. Burning out? That’s cool. Turning to rust?

That’s how it goes … I guess.

Almost Famous has a happy ending, but only because the people in Stillwater, like, simply stop being people. In the third act, they become caricatures. Their individuality is erased. They choose their shitty old tour bus over a charter jet. Russell’s frustration (“I’m past these musicians, do you understand?”) is just … forgotten. Smudged into the background. The narrative can’t allow for complexity. The arc is complete. (Underscoring the irony of that conclusion: Stillwater were a composite creation based in part on Crowe’s experiences interviewing, um, the Eagles.) The men in Stillwater drive off into the sunset — satisfied and sanguine — as focus shifts to the film’s actual protagonist: the guy who was penning the narrative all along. If you’re a writer, you just want a good story. Stillwater are a boring story. They are a cliche. Cameron Crowe, though … “15-year-old aspiring music writer has just stumbled into an assignment for Rolling Stone“?

Crazy.

***

Real quick? Real talk? I feel kinda bad using Fab as the target for my kill shot up there, because I feel like he deserves better than to go out like that. He just happened to say the thing nobody says — without even knowing he was saying anything — which happened to be some variation of the thing I needed somebody to say, so he got that line, and he took the hit.

Between you and me, though? He seems like a truly nice guy. They all do. Including Julian. I dunno. I always think everybody is nice, but I never know. I always used to see these/those dudes at bars, back when I went to bars, but I never drank with them, just alongside them. I never met any of them in any capacity, near as I can recall, so I can’t speak to character beyond the characters I have created in my narrative. And that shit is quantifiably and qualitatively bereft. For what it’s worth, McInerney macked with all those cats, and he kinda vouches for the non-Jules dudes:

[A]fter [Julian] sits down in the lobby of the Metropolitan at ten past two, he seems taken aback by the question of his drinking, even after I put a positive spin on it and tell him how the other guys in the band all say he’s much easier to work with now, that it’s the best thing that’s happened in the history of the band. “Yeah, whatever,” he responds. “If they say so.” He looks like he’ll have something to say to the guys tomorrow when he sees them, and I feel bad for them in advance because I like them and I can see that they live with a tyrant.

Tyranny. I feel pretty bad for not talking about Tyranny here, too. Fuck. I SOUND LIKE A DICK! Too fucking late now, though. Too late too early. If we get a next time, we can talk about it then. Now, though, it’s time to begin the ending.

***

Remember what I was saying about how Julian wrote/writes these little lyrics that took/take me someplace else? Lemme give you an example. One of the lines on “Lazy Boy” goes like this:

Jackets are the eyes to the soul

I dunno if Julian invented that or borrowed it from somebody else to be repurposed here (he does that sometimes), but it doesn’t matter. Set off like that, that line reads like poetry. It can take you anywhere. It can take you wherever it takes you. Me, I read that and I’m suddenly reading a real heavy-handed lede from a circa-2002 Strokes profile. That is where those seven words take me. Real quick, I’mma write that graf. Apologies to anyone who’s already written this:

Jackets are the eyes to the soul. This is my first thought upon catching a glimpse of two-fifths of the Strokes — guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. and drummer Fabrizio Morretti — who are currently sidled up to the dim-lit bar at low-profile Lower East Side hipster hangout Luna Lounge, where we’ve arranged to meet for this interview. (Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas was supposed to join us, but he came down with a cold sometime this A.M. and was forced to cancel at the last minute.) Jackets are the eyes to the soul. I haven’t even been introduced to these young Strokes, and yet, their choices in outerwear tell me more than mere words could ever convey. Now look, I’m familiar with that old saw about books and covers, but these are jackets. Cuffed around Moretti’s muscled shoulders is a classic cafe racer — buttery leather, Nehru collar, no pockets — authentic to both the era and spirit of Easy Rider. The soft, cracked cowhide is faded from the miles of another lifetime: once shoe-polish black, now cigarette-ash gray. Hammond, meanwhile, is rakishly rocking a crushed-velvet blazer — magenta, if I’m not mistaken (or aubergine?) — two sizes too small even on his compact frame. A man in a boy’s jacket? A boy in a girl’s jacket? It doesn’t matter. It fits perfectly. These carefully selected, casually insouciant garments say everything about their respective models: diff’rent blokes, but unmistakably Strokes. I could turn around right now; I could write, now, and turn around this piece by midnight, get eight hours of shut-eye and skip the hangover. But I vaguely recall this piece of advice given to outsiders who find themselves in Rome: Don’t skip the Frascati. Is that it? No matter. I am here. This is Rome. This is it.

Would Ben Fong-Torres have bought that bullshit in ’73? I dunno. He was a pretty fucking good editor, but we all have our blind spots, and I feel like he mighta been receptive to some cut-rate Thom Wolfe-style stuff. He woulda liked the line Julian contributed. Rightly so. That’s a good line. The rest is garbage: just a string of inane observations and self-satisfied prose and actual straight-up cliches. It definitely could have run in the NME (“The Enemy”) in ’02.

Now, is that what Jules is saying? Or is that just what I wanna hear?

[Shrug]

OK, hey, forget the subtext and the subtlety for a sec. There’s one song on Virtue that seems to stop just short of actually naming names. It’s called “Wink,” and I don’t think it even needs annotation. Here’s how it opens:

I see the writing on the wall
I was playing too safe
Playing it too safe is dangerous

All the things that kept me going
Was all the things that slowed me down
I see the writing on the wall

Sure, you can say that I’m projecting — I said it first, remember — but in this case, I’m not sure the song allows for any alternate interpretations. The Strokes were/are playing it too safe for Julian’s taste. He’s said that a million times. The other members of the Strokes both kept him going and held him back. He hasn’t said that — not in so many words — but you can fill in the blanks. Remember what Russell said to William?

The more popular we get, the more I can’t walk on them, the bigger their houses get, the more pressure… you forget, man. You forget what it was like to be real, to be a fan. You can hear it in a lot of bands who’ve been successful — it doesn’t sound like music anymore. It sounds like … like lifestyle maintenance.

That’s “Wink.” It’s not just the lyrics though — it’s the whole song. It’s all subtext. Julian shades every Stereogum typewriter monkey who ever thought it would be cute to play around with the title of Is This It (“I thought it was here but it’s not my fault…”). He sings the line “oh somewhere” with exactly the same melodic inflection as he sings the line “oh someday” on the Is This It song “Someday.” I am POSITIVE he’s gonna pop up on Twitter in two days to casually inform his followers that “Wink”‘s title is a reference to, like, ’80s Tic-Tac-Dough host Wink Martindale, but I am not falling for it. I am here to tell you: The song’s title is an answer to a question. And that question is:

“Is this song about the Strokes?”

;-)

“Wink” isn’t a bummer, though. It’s a banger. It’s a party song. It sounds like a party, and it sounds like party music, and it sounds like Julian is having a blast. In that respect, it sounds like Virtue, because Virtue is a truly riotous album. Which is maybe a little weird, when you consider how fucking angry it is, how dark it is. But as an expression of artistic freedom, it holds back nothing. No two songs sound alike. At all. Some songs sound like five different songs at once. One song sounds kinda like the Strokes (“Leave It In My Dreams”). But that song doesn’t sound like it would fit neatly onto any Strokes album, and it would be the clear highlight on a few Strokes albums. Everything else is chaos. I was trying to come up with an appropriate hyphenate microgenre into which you might slot Virtue, and I came up with: prog-punk-metal-indie-goth-folk-country-chillwave-retro-pop-art.

That doesn’t cover it (I’m not sure that even covers “QYURRYUS”), but it gives you an idea. I may have missed all those lyrics during that crazy day back in January, but I wasn’t wrong on one count: IT IS A WILD RIDE!

I don’t know which Voidz played which parts — if I learned one thing from Andrew W.K., it’s “never trust the liner notes” — but whoever is playing on this thing can play. There are some bass lines here that are crazier than the sickest Strokes leads. And there are some leads here that are sicker than all the leads on Is This It combined. The keys, the drums, the tones, the toy xylophones … It’s a lot, but why settle for less? If Julian’s entire goal was to make an album that altogether ALieNNated (or annihilated) the Strokes, he kinda did it: It’s pretty unlikely that those guys could play this stuff, and even if they could, would they want to? And even if they got into the sounds, would they wanna back up Julian on like 10 songs that fucking bury the Strokes, and another five that take a pretty strong anti-capitalism stance?

That’s not an exact ratio, btw. Maybe it’s five and 10. Maybe it’s 12 and three. One-fifth? Truthfully, it can be hard to separate the threads: “ALieNNation,” for example, is an obviously and almost exclusively political song, but Julian closes it with this:

Work so hard to become a faint memory in the mind of a collective group of strangers … leaving all my melodies behind.

If he’s leaving it all behind, he’s doing it in style. Like “Wink,” “ALieNNation” is also a party song. With precious few exceptions (notably the somber, sincere, lovely, and soul-immolating “Horse To Water”), these are jams, beginning to end. Everything on Virtue has energy — often truly weird energy — but everything has melody too — often where you wouldn’t expect it. These songs hang together, especially if you hang with them. (After enough listens, they start to sound like the work of a single artist expressing a coherent vision, but I couldn’t give you a an estimated number of listens on that, because I lost count a while back.)

OK, finally, let’s talk about the one thing you actually wanna hear:

Will Strokes fans dig Virtue?

Dude. Don’t do this to me. Man, I don’t fucking know. I love it, but like I said, it is a lot, and this is coming from a guy who has invested nearly two decades into Julian Casablancas’ career. I will say, though, that if you sit with these songs for a minute, if you break them down in your head, you can hear the Strokes songs they would have been. You couldn’t have played that game with Tyranny. These are songs. Now I dunno if the individual song he’s delivered on Virtue is always 100% better than the individual hypothetical alternative, in the abstract, but I will always take the individual song on Virtue over whatever “collaboration Strokes” trash you’d get outta Rick Rubin.

Furthermore, not every song on Virtue is the equal of every other song — “AlieNNatioN” is simply better than “Black Hole,” that’s not up for debate — but there are at least nine tracks here that I’d sequence into a Julian Casablancas Ultimate Playlist, and all 15 of these things are freaky as fuck. I’m here for that! Bring it! Maybe you’ll like it, maybe not. Maybe you’ll vibe with, say, six tracks instead of nine. Maybe your nine would be different than mine. Maybe you ride with all 15. Maybe you just don’t get it at all. Depends. Here, too, I find myself thinking of some dialogue from Almost Famous — this excerpted from an exchange between William and Lester Bangs:

Bangs: You like the new Lou Reed?
William: [automatic] The early stuff. The new stuff, he’s trying to be Bowie, he should be himself. I’m not a big Lou man.
Bangs: Yeah, but if Bowie’s doing Lou, and Lou’s Doing Bowie, Lou’s still doing Lou.
William: [standing his ground]: If you like Lou.

So if you like Julian … yeah, you’ll like Virtue. Why not? If you only like the Strokes — [automatic] the early stuff — it’s gonna be a hard sell, especially because you’re not gonna like what Julian is saying, or everything I’m hearing him say, at least. But, look, what the fuck do you want him to say? If you’re a writer, you just want a good story. This is a great story and he’s a great writer. This is the truest story and nobody ever tells it. Honestly? He’d be a bad artist if he did anything less. And you can say a lotta things about Julian Casablancas, but “bad artist” ain’t gonna stick. This is the opposite of lifestyle maintenance. This is scorched-earth carnage. But also? This is life.

Granted, I have no clue whether he’s got another of these leviathans ahead of him, but then again, I dunno where I’ll be when he comes back with another one of anything at all. If he comes back, period. We’re old dudes. We all got expiration dates. It’s always possible that This Is It — for either of us, both of us, whoever, whatever — and if it is? This is a pretty good place to begin and end.

Whatever happens in the future is beside the point. Whatever happened in the past is prelude. With Virtue, Julian Casablancas has pulled off a thing I didn’t expect from him or anyone: He took a wrought-iron narrative arc with an inevitable conclusion and he changed it. When we began, up on that hill, Julian was writing the little story of the Strokes. A long time ago. That’s not him anymore. For Julian — present tense — the old story is over. Bye bye! He’s done with all that. He’s done something with all that. He’s done something new.

Virtue is out 3/30 on Cult/RCA. Pre-order it here.