What if everyone has been wrong about Julian’s perceived slow decline for 10+ years? What if our misalignment with his career is because we wanted him to be some post 9/11 Paul McCartney and instead he wanted to be Bowie and Morrissey and Black Sabbath and Aphex Twin and also just himself. Virtue is the destination we have been waiting for since he took the road less traveled on each record following 2003. It took 12 years, but it was worth it.
2006’s First Impressions of Earth was viewed as the first misstep, after slight complaints of “more of the same” surrounding 2003’s perfect album Room On Fire, the Strokes did something different and got roasted for it. The Strokes were on Weezer’s path, after two perfect records you can do no immediate critical good. People are judging your current work not on the scale of their immediate reaction to your previous work but on their layered, time-tested theories. Thus a risky, bonkers album like FIOE gets panned instead of studied.
It wasn’t supposed to Is This It part three. We can now see that it was the death of the original Strokes and the birth of the Voidz, CR5, Albert’s Career, late period Strokes all in one. It was the sinking Titanic that sent lifeboats in all directions for 12 years and counting of reactionary projects. Looking back, it contains some of their best songs. “You Only Live Once” was prescient for a cultural meme as well as their best pop song post-2003, (or maybe "Under Cover of Darkness"). “On the Other Side” has taken its place as one of the most beloved Strokes songs and “Ize of The World” is like seeing Voidz baby pictures.
As Julian’s career fractures into victory laps with the Strokes, a fantastic solo record, and confused responses to his records, Julian never strayed from the trajectory started on FIOE. Voidz are merely the fulfillment of the most bonkers aspects of that record.
The first record by Voidz was a transitional record being both the sequel to his 2009 solo album and the prequel to Virtue. Containing swampy melodies buried deeper than Royal Trux songs, it was a polarizing and necessary step to get here. Virtue is Julian’s best album in 15 years because it delivers on his best melodic and structural impulses. Its the anti “Is This It”. The confident simplicity has been replaced by confident complexity. When you heard Is This It, you wondered why no one made that record first; when you hear Virtue, you will conclude that no one else could have made it.
Now before you make your jokes — “someone did make Is This It first: Television!” — you probably remember that Is This It was more layered than we gave it credit for. Taking cues from the New York of the three preceding decades it re-arranged and presented the best ideas through a pop filter. Virtue does the same thing, except it takes ideas that don’t make sense together and makes the fit, like a statue of David Bowie welded onto a solid gold bus on monster truck wheels. The same chef, but all different ingredients.
Virtue brings in as many influences as Julian always has, just instead of blending them together with a lime on the rim, he leaves them sitting out in the sun, and runs them over, and plays them through distortion pedals and Game Boy speakers. One of the only tracks to play all the sides — “My Friend the Walls” — runs the whole stretch of the record in 4 minutes with the most sci-fi verses and one of the more Strokesy choruses, plus the bridge which also serves as a coda, does both with a left field two measure solo and a rhythmic melodic push.
“Pink Ocean” grunge-funks up its verses complete with Julian’s grimy Al Green falsetto. The mesmerizing bass tone and hook stay stagnant until their progression breaks open. Its Julian’s version of Radiohead’s “All I Need”, plus an 80’s by way of the Darkness-style guitar solo. “Leave It In My Dreams” sounds just like all the awesome songs on Angles that everyone pretended to hate, sitting here in a drought of Strokes songs, it is an oasis in a CGI desert. The real key to this song is its immediate neighbor — “Qyurryus”. The two songs show the full range of this record. Both released as advance singles, this range projection was intentional.
“Qyurryus” being the most bonkers track here, sounding like a robot band playing in a Russian prison camp. “Think Before You Drink” will prove to be the most polarizing track here, but really, its just a broken down, cry for help in the vein of “Ask Me Anything”. It might feel like I am running wildly across the map describing these tracks, but there is no thread running through Virtue other than excellence.
Julian has been leading us here since First Impressions of Earth, he has finally made his no-fi, bonkers masterpiece. A