Strokes fans, you’re in for a real treat. This rare demo of ‘You Only Live Once’, taken from the band’s third studio album First Impressions of Earth, offers us a glimpse into the creative process of Julian Casablancas and company, who, by 2006, many felt were locked into a downward spiral.
I would beg to differ. This mellow demo recording of the album’s opening track reflects a group still searching for the perfect song. Written by frontman Julian Casablancas, the demo is a world away from the album version but no less impressive. Featuring the mellow chime of a casino keyboard and Casablancas’ sleepy vocals, ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’ reveals a quieter side to The Strokes, away from the crash and thrash of the band set-up.
‘You Only Live Once’ focuses on a couple on the cusp of a full-blown argument. The enraged boyfriend’s partner – the more rational of the two – manages to calm him down, helping him to see clearly. In essence, the track is an exploration of that strange human desire to wallow in anger and sadness, often to the detriment of those around us. Men, Casablancas seems to conclude, have a habit of taking life too seriously, of not noticing “what they got” when it’s staring them in the face. The boyfriend seems to understand this too, asking his girlfriend to pull him out of himself, to “sit me down, shut me up,” and remind him that life needs to be taken on its own terms.
Although The Strokes felt obligated to deliver this particular track in a form fans would recognise, the tranquil demo version found a home in the trailer for Sofia Coppola’s 2010 film Somewhere, in which Stephen Dorff plays a successful Hollywood Actor who feels his life is utterly meaningless. It was an appropriate fit given that the film is all about a man being dragged out of his self-indulgent misery by his 11-year-old daughter.
According to Albert Hammond Jr, this demo is just one of the possible versions of ‘You Only Live Once’, with Casablancas having written three or four different takes on the track, each featuring a different chorus melody and lyrics. Here, the frontman’s words echo the hard-won advice of a person who’s made a fair few mistakes in their life: “Ten decisions shape your life,” he sings in the opening verse, “You’ll be aware of five about /
Seven ways to go through school / Either you’re noticed or left out.”
Make sure you check out Casablancas’ ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’ if you haven’t already. It’s well worth your time.