t’s fun to watch individual members of a successful band go on hiatus. Although lead singers tend to go on ego-boosting solo projects while the rest of the band melts into the background, members of The Strokes are too talented to take that route. Vocalist Julian Casablancas and stylish lead guitarist Nick Valensi have made their contributions to music since the band’s break, but it’s their more reserved bandmates that have made a splash with albums.
Rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. has already put out a couple of solo pop-rock albums while drummer Fabrizio Moretti leads a sunny outfit called Little Joy. Strokes fans have been satiated by these glowing releases, but quiet bassist Nikolai Fraiture has also been keeping busy. Fraiture’s solo project, Nickel Eye, has a batch of songs to be released, and as a fellow Stroke, there will be plenty of ears listening.
But Fraiture’s idea of songwriting seems to be different from his Strokes counterparts, particularly from Hammond, Jr.’s knack for creating a pop song with vocals that bounce off his catchy guitars. The lyrics on Nickel Eye’s album “The Time of the Assassins” feature poetry that is mostly pulled from Fraiture’s teenage years. The songs are crafted around these often unimaginative lyrics, producing similar instrumentation. “Brandy of the Damned” meanders through lazy ska chords and Fraiture repetitively sings, “Don’t let them get you down / They’ll step on you to get to higher ground.” Some songs start off very well only to taper off as they drag along. “Back From Exile” recycles the same riff until it’s completely worn off its charm.
Another quality Fraiture is lacking, in which his former bandmate Moretti excels, is his delivery. Even though Little Joy frequently displays a quaint simplicity in its songs, Moretti’s vocal delivery is not only extremely genuine and heartfelt, but he regularly shares vocal duties equally with very capable contemporaries to keep the album diverse.
While Fraiture has a few solid guest appearances on the album, he shares the primary vocal duties on the entire record. His deadpan voice adds no zing to songs, and practically every song follows a dull pattern. With a little extra effort, a song that rambles like “This is the End” could feature some interesting guitar fills or some emotion in the vocals. Instead, it wanders aimlessly and predictably until it ends.
Despite Fraiture’s flaws in songwriting, you can see how he influences The Strokes with his preliminary melodies, even if they often lose their luster. A few songs, though, hit the mark. “Dying Star” features the crunching guitar of Nick Zinner from fellow New Yorkers, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. This song is a blast from beginning to finish and features some of the power Fraiture’s singing lacks on the rest of the record. “Where the Cold Wind Blows” is beautifully eerie, while “You and Everyone Else” has a great initial hook and features enough solid transitions to keep attention throughout.
Fraiture has the privilege of being a part of a reputable band and also has the disadvantage of having his individual work measured against that of his gifted bandmates. This Nickel Eye album still has the swagger and some of the spunk of other releases from the members of The Strokes, but it lacks the creativity, emotion and structure that those other albums have. So while this record has a few standout tracks, it falls beneath the high bar Hammond, Jr. and Moretti have set. Luckily for Fraiture, The Strokes’ hiatus doesn’t seem permanent, and his individual songwriting should improve the more he soaks in The Strokes’ atmosphere.