By Daniel Klugman
Last week, my roommate made the case that Squidward Tentacles is in fact hot. Why exactly is Squidward Tentacles sexy? His apathy at work. Squidward hates nothing more than his menial job at the Krusty Krab. He works with two of the most insufferable (in his view) beings in Bikini Bottom: Spongebob, an immature naive optimistic Sponge, and Mr. Krabs, a capitalist shark who only cares about profits. Squidward just wants to live out his days in artistic leisure playing the clarinet (a notoriously hideous instrument). Is there anything more relatable than being forced to give up one’s passions in order to work a shitty job you hate? The pressure of the world is constant and palpable.
Nearly 19 years ago, the Strokes released their classic album Is This It. If the 2001 Strokes lived in the Spongebob Universe, they would have Squidward energy. Is This It breathes apathy. Lead singer Julian Casablancas mutters the first lines of the album, “Can’t you see I’m trying, I don’t even like it.” The chorus of the intro track finds Casablancas asking the age old question, “Is This It?” Is this really all there is to life? This monotonous bullshit? It’s not just that the Strokes have such an apathetic disposition towards life, it is also that they simply are fuck-ups. It’s easy to screw up everything you do if you think it doesn’t matter. On the track “Hard To Explain” Casablancas pleads:
I say the right thing but act the wrong way
I like it right here but I cannot stay
I’m watching TV forget what I’m told
Well I am too young and they are too old
The joke is on you this place is a zoo
You’re right, it’s true
The Strokes embody the youthful spirit: everyone is lost and the practical path sucks. This place is like a zoo, we are all on display to the world; we fulfill some purpose given to us by some societal norm that we don’t agree with but there seems to be no other options. To the Strokes there is another option: stop caring whatsoever. On the closing track “Take It Or Leave It,” Casablancas screams to the world, “Take it or leave it, and take it or leave it.” The Strokes end the album with the haunting lines,
Oh, that’s right, he’s gonna let you down
He’s gonna let you down, he’s gonna let you down
And gonna break your back for a chance
And gonna steal your friends, if he can
He’s gonna win someday, oh, he will
Who exactly is the “He?” I take it to be the Strokes themselves. They no longer care about the world; they are fulfilling their passions in rebelling against their practical path. This leaves them as people who will let everyone around them down, for they simply do not care.
Fast-forward 19 years, and you find the Strokes at a very different place. The apathetic facade is gone and emptiness is left over. It is easy to embrace the youthful spirit and say “fuck the world.” In doing so, it feels like you really are finding some meaning. Simply put, the youthful spirit is just a facade. It is not escaping the confines of society’s grasp, it is just putting on another face. You fear the world so you say “fuck the world.” You are lost so you say “fuck this, I don’t need a purpose.” Most importantly, you make so many mistakes, hurt so many people, just to realize it was all a farce. This is where we find the Strokes in present day with The New Abnormal.
The New Abnormal is a spiritual sequel to Is This It, a reflection by five apathetic rock stars on the glorious mistakes they have made. The album opens with the hypnotic “The Adults Are Talking” in which Casablancas reminisces about a past relationship that he screwed up. If this track were on Is This It, Casablancas would have had a lackadaisical spirit towards the downfall of his relationship, but it is clear he truly regrets his mistakes on “The Adults Are Talking.” He sings:
I don’t, I don’t want anything
I know it’s not, it’s not your fault
I don’t want anyone
As I do in life for you
There is a clear remorse here that is absent in Is This It. The first half of the album continues this trend of seemingly blissful songs that have some elements of the spirit of Is This It (such as apathy towards life), but when the Strokes reach track six “At The Door,” the album sonically and tonally shifts. The final four tracks of The New Abnormal are pure glorious cathartic depression. The apathetic facade is gone, and what is left is regret and pain. On “At The Door” Casablancas sings,
I can’t escape it
I’m never gonna make it out of this in time
Run at the door
Have I lost it all?
Sinkin’ like a stone
Use me like an oar
And get yourself to shore
This perfectly encapsulates the stages of the loss of youth. You can’t escape the cruelty of the world by putting on a facade of apathy; you hurt other people and they leave you (there is no one at the door). You blame others for using you to get what they want when in reality you drove them away. The depression vibes plow on through “Why Are Sundays So Depressing” and into “Not The Same Anymore” where Casablancas accepts some blame for his actions.
The closing track on The New Abnormal, “Ode To The Mets” sees the moment that The Strokes come to terms with their past, accept their mistakes, and move on. The emotion payoff of the final 90 seconds of “Ode To The Mets” cannot be put into words, so I will portray it in meme format:
So what exactly should Squidward do? His apathy is attractive, just like the Strokes apathy on Is This It is attractive, but is it good for him? On The New Abnormal, it is clear that the Strokes in some way regret this time of their life, but does that mean it wasn’t worth it? It is easy to reflect on your mistakes and thing your youthful naivete was dumb, but maybe being dumb and having those experiences was essential to your growth as a person.
Either way, apathy is hot. Maybe that says something more about the audience and our ability to use an artist’s personality to supplement our own experiences. We want to be the rockstars the Strokes are or have the IDGAF attitude Squidward has. At what cost does this come to the artist? Maybe we are the ones using Casablancas like an oar.