Among the more serious charges leveled at the Strokes following their rise to fame on the backs of the garage-rock revival was that they were New York dilettantes who, instead of the rock ‘n’ saviors they were pegged to be, were actually just rich college kids giving music a shot before moving onto a desk job. Given the “Hey, I just got a guitar and a four-track, listen to me” vibe of Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond’s two solo albums, and the laid-back, “I’m in this band, but I’m just trying to chill out, bro” attitude of drummer Fab Moretti’s Little Joy, that notion certainly has begun to gain credence. If you toss in bassist Nikolai Fraiture’s Nickel Eye project, then it start’s to feel like a bona fide fact.
Fraiture’s album with Nickel Eye (officially the lamest rock band name of the 21st century), The Time of the Assassins, blends his smoky, affectless growl with a variety of musical genres: Stroke-like rock, Stroke-like reggae, and Stroke-like bar-room swing. Given that Fraiture has only played music with the Strokes and his imprint on the Strokes three albums can be described generously as “present,” he can be excused for sounding like the band that pays his bills. But let’s keep in mind that this isn’t a Strokes album, and that Fraiture can’t sing a lick.
The foremost problem of Time isn’t the generic backing music provided by U.K. band South. It’s Fraiture’s shouty, nasal bark that never changes emotions or volume over the course of the album’s 11 tracks. Yelling can be an OK choice for a vocal style, but when you apply it equally to a song that is a frayed rocker (“Dying Star.” which features guitar work from a slumming Nick Zinner), a sub-Sandinista reggae experiment (“Brandy of the Damned”), a ballad (“Where the Cold Wind Blows”), and a (relatively) faithful Leonard Cohen cover (“Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”), it makes the album seem like one awfully long song that never seems to end or change.
Fraiture is dealing with something of a stacked deck with The Time Of the Assassins. He’s (at best) the fourth most famous Stroke, trying to make personal albums in the shadow of a band he’ll never outshine. His lyrics certainly won’t help (sample: “Hello motherfuckers, I’m back from exile”), but if he wasn’t a Stroke, this album could only be sold out of Fraiture’s trunk at open-mic nights in upstate New York.