The year 2001 in New York City was undoubtedly defined by the rise of The Strokes. Their debut album, Is This It, is to this day hailed as the sole savior of modern-day rock and roll. The pressure of first albums is not lost on anyone—it can be intimidating to have the world form preconceived notions of who you are and what you’re trying to say, something all the more intensified with solo projects. Up until now, every member of The Strokes minus one embarked on solo careers with varying degrees of success—Julian Casablancas with underrated Phrazes of the Young prior to experimental lo-fi Tyranny with The Voidz, Albert Hammond Jr on his fourth release Momentary Masters with a steady following, Fabrizio Moretti’s much-beloved summer fling Little Joy, and Nikolai Fraiture with Nickel Eye and now eclectic Summer Moon. The last of the group to branch off on this journey is lead guitarist Nick Valensi, who is now bringing us a full-length LP titled New Skin with a whole new band: CRX.
CRX was formed in 2013, shortly after The Strokes fifth LP release Comedown Machine led to a media blackout with very few tour dates and thus fueling Valensi’s desire to get out on stage. As he told Noisey in a recent interview, “This whole thing started that it would be fun for me to write some songs, put together a band, and just do some shows, maybe book a tour, and end up with a kind of counterpoint to The Strokes in my life. Something a little more simple, a train that’s a little smaller, lighter and easier to get on the tracks.” What followed is a full five-person lineup—with Valensi on lead vocals/guitar, Ralph Alexander on drums, Guards’ Richie Follin on guitar/keyboard, and The Reflections’ own guitarist Darian Zahedi and bassist Jon Safley. New Skin, a ten-track fusion of heavy metal and power pop, was produced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme—who yields a noteworthy and significant presence over the entire LP. The collaboration was reportedly formed through longterm friendship first and foremost and an intrigue in merging two separate sounds into one distinct concept.
While there are definite traces of QOTSA and Strokes on every track, one could get the impression that it lacks cohesion. Perhaps the overall message of the record is intended to carry the listener through several journeys, but there’s a thin line between balancing and overwhelming. “Ways to Fake It”, the lead single and stand-out track, is a classic Costello-inspired track with a chorus repeating “I got ways to fake it, you’ll never know”—yet “Walls”, a much heavier sound, has Valensi saying “I don’t know what to make of it when everyone is faking it.” However, much of the record brings forth a new side of Valensi we haven’t seen (“Unnatural”, “Broken Bones”). Although the record is a notable and intriguing approach towards a new sound unlike anything else out there, it is possible that a listener can leave this record with a single burning and unanswerable question: what is it trying to say?
Regardless of whether or not CRX is your cup of tea, there is a certain unmeasurable truth and depth in coming into your own after years of shying away from it. It is no secret that Valensi can dance circles around anyone with his guitar at this point, and to any Strokes fan, his trademark solos have a way of pulling at our heart strings with reverberating nostalgia (you might have also teared up a bit upon hearing that the 1995 Epiphone Rivera he wrote these solos into existence on got lost, as well – but no worries, they’re reunited). It is almost like getting to see the entirety of the big picture – every member of a band has a strength that only they can bring, and with that strength comes power if accompanied by a willingness to seek new territory ahead. One can only hope that with this step into the center of the stage Valensi finds confidence in the identity of CRX and his new role as a front-man, but in the meantime, we can rest easy knowing that the guitarist is only just starting to hit his prime.
New Skin by CRX is out now via Columbia. Catch them live on their upcoming North American tour starting November 7.