If a friend’s band ever covers “Wink” live while you’re in the audience and that friend makes a point of dedicating the song to you, watch your back, homie. Like every other tune on Virtue—the sophomore LP from Voidz, Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas’ non-Strokes project—“Wink” is an exercise in casting shade so densely passive-aggressive that gravity is incapable of escaping it.
Catchy and razor-sharp, the song’s an embarrassment of riches. There’s its gait, a Drunken Master slosh that conjures up a caricature of Casablancas circa 2002. There’s its thick backbeat, the sort of thing producer Ben H. Allen might slow to a crawl for an Animal Collective banger. There’s the drawled, swaggering menace, inseparable from its vocal yet coupled with narcotic, neon guitar filigree that’s almost as fungible a mood camouflage as the scramble suit from A Scanner Darkly. (If Mark E. Smith were still alive, The Fall would wear “Wink” like a second skin.)
This song is so loopily charming—and intelligible, if one isn’t listening closely and doesn’t have Genius open in a browser window as it plays—that it’s possible to overlook the fact that our allegedly nonchalant narrator daydreams about transforming into a crocodile and dragging his subject into a swamp. Present-day cultural, technological, and societal realities that can’t be pithily summarized here limit any likelihood that modern musos will give “Wink” (and Virtue!) an airing.
A shame—because I haven’t even made it to the best aspect of this song, that gem that keeps me coming back for more, the creamy nougat at its center, some pre-chorus non sequitur weirdness lurking near the song’s back end:
People in the wrong body, might be broken like a heart/Drive a highway through you, like a rainbow arc
That verse—that verse!—spills out of Casablancas accidentally, as though its arrangement and existence surprises him as he sings it. It’s complicated—a David Berman-worthy couplet with a naive Kimya Dawson syllable-stretch that expresses, in a swift short-hand, a broad range of emotions—it’s bizarre, disjoined, vicious, vulnerable, regretful, and poetic in a single rippling 20-word burst that shouldn’t necessarily be the slurred fulcrum of Virtue’s genre-whirlpool gush yet is anyway.
That amazing verse resides on the back end of a song that’s on the back end of an album I might be able to talk someone into listening once, if the moment is right and we’re both damn lucky.