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Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Strokes song that made Julian Casablancas “cringe”

The Strokes song that made Julian Casablancas “cringe”

(Credits: Far Out / Raph Pour-Hashemi)


In the early 2000s, rock and roll didn’t seem to have a scene anymore. Although there were more than a few artists making waves, the biggest names in the world tended to be bands that had already had their legacies built for them, with the best-selling album of 2001 being a collection of The Beatles’ greatest hits. With the grunge wave long since dying and nu-metal starting to become a parody of itself almost as soon as it had begun, The Strokes made the sounds of dirty rock and roll cool again on Is This It.

Taking the building blocks of artists like The Velvet Underground, the New York quintet gave fans a clear picture of what it felt like living in downtown NYC. Across every track, frontman Julian Casablancas crooned about the wonders of living in the city, from the on-off relationship with his ex on ‘Last Nite’ or the optimism that things will get better on ‘Someday’.

Although the album would become a foundational piece of 2000s rock, Casablancas had trouble with one of the tracks. While he never claims to be a saint for his moral decisions, ‘Barely Legal’ is one of the sleaziest songs on the record, talking about hanging out with a girl that may or may not be over the age of consent.

Despite delivering a fantastic performance, Casablancas does wish that he could have changed some of the lyrics, telling Songfacts, “’Barely Legal’ kind of makes me cringe a little bit. I get it. It’s sassy and youthful, and I don’t judge it or think about it, but these days I make what I feel like I want to hear”. 

He continued: “I make things that don’t register as high on my own personal cringe meter, but what that means to other people I can’t say. I can only gauge it by the way it makes me feel or according to my own personal standards”.

Even though the band was still in its infancy at this stage, the pieces of a classic Strokes song are already on full display throughout the track. Sounding somewhere between Frank Sinatra, Lou Reed, and a sad sack at the end of the bar, Casablancas is playing the devil’s advocate in this song, knowing that he will give you anything your heart desires if you’re willing to sell your soul.

Whereas Casablancas may cringe at the track now, every aspiring rock musician at the time found a companion in Is This It. Ushering in the return of garage rock alongside The White Stripes, bands like Arctic Monkeys would pop up a few years later playing a similar take on rock and roll, documenting the wild times that go on after dark downtown. 

While The Strokes may have been at the forefront of rock history, it wasn’t a space they wanted to stay for long. On the band’s subsequent albums, Casablancas habitually changed their approach to recording on albums like Angles while experimenting with his side project, The Voidz.

‘Barely Legal’ may not be a favourite for the Strokes frontman these days, but it remains a nice time capsule for rock history. Instead of seeing a band in their prime, this was the sound of The Strokes honing their craft, getting ready to explode.

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