At 6 A.M. on June 2nd, the Strokes were winding down the recording of their third album and about to jet off for a vacation to celebrate drummer Fab Moretti's twenty-fifth birthday. Three days later, the Smoking Section got to hear all fourteen songs, which clock in at more than fifty-one minutes. Dare we say it? OK, we will: The awesome range and punch of the new one make the Strokes' first two albums sound like child's play. And those albums are excellent. "I don't wanna go overboard," says singer Julian Casablancas, sitting on a stoop on Fourteenth Street in Manhattan, "but I'm pretty excited. It's like a seedless watermelon – I like it." With no deadlines hanging over them in the studio, the Strokes had plenty of time to perfect the tunes, which, you'll be happy to hear, feature Casablancas' voice front and center for the first time. Just a few of the highlights: Casablancas venting on "Razor Blade" with the cutting line "My feelings are more important than yours"; guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. ripping into a solo on "Vision of Division," sounding like Dick Dale on crack; and the starkly beautiful "Ask Me Anything" (which came to the singer in a dream), featuring only Casablancas' vocals, and Mellotron courtesy of guitarist Nick Valensi. The album is slated for January, and expect a tour more major than the one following the previous album. "We were a little road-weary after Room On Fire, so it was light," says Casablancas. "Now I think we're ready for fatal touring again — to go all out. We got our energy back." The band is working closely with studio whiz Andy Wallace on the final mix and Casablancas is racking his brain for the album's title and artwork. But he feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. "I'm relaxed now," he says. "Almost done."
The waiting is the hardest part: While relaxing in Malibu, California, just days before his summer tour kickoff in Florida, Tom Petty decided to launch this torpedo in the Smoking Section: "I'll have an album out by next year." says Petty, "unless it gets out this year, in the last little bit of December. It's called Highway Companion, and it's a solo record." If you remember correctly, his last two solo records — Wildflowers and Full Moon Fever — are freakin' unbelievable, so how does this one stack up? "I think it's a special one," he says. "I really do." Yes! At his gigs this summer, Petty and his amazing Heartbreakers will road-test a couple of the new tunes — a song called "Melinda," and, says Petty, "one that we're really excited about called 'Turn This Car Around.'"
This story is from the June 30th, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone.