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Is This It—8

 

Released: 2001

1) Is This It  2) The Modern Age  3) Soma  4) Barely Legal  5) Someday  6) Alone, Together  7) Last Nite  8) Hard To Explain  9) New York City Cops  10) Trying Your Luck  11) Take It Or Leave It

 

The Strokes support a three guitar line up of Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, and Albert Hammond Junior, augmented by Nikolai Fraiture on bass, and Fabrizio Moretti on drums.  Casablancas is the singer and lone songwriter of the bunch, and the band as a whole comes from a decidingly upper class background.  Casablancas (the son of a millionaire modeling agency executive) and the rest of the band each attended amazingly expensive private schools in Manhattan…except Hammond, who was born in LA and is the son of singer/songwriter Albert “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” Hammond.  They began calling themselves The Strokes in 1999, the same time they began playing around the New York City bar scene.  By 2001 they exploded: signed by RCA, recorded an album entitled “Is This It,” and were quite honestly, the hottest band in the world.  They were the first of the “the-bands” to gain prominence, and the media and critical darlings of the new millennium.   

 

Their debut album might as well be a Glam rock tribute.  Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, New York Dolls, T Rex…all those guys can be heard in the tracks.  Throw in a little New Wavy Cars and a little Talking Heads, and that pretty much defines The Strokes.  BUT THIS IS THE YEAR 2000, and it has been twenty years since we last heard that great rock sound, with that macho veneer.  Not punk in a Blink 182 style, not pop in a Goo Goo Dolls way, not grunge, or emo, or anything but pure rock music.  Music with vocal hooks…music played with conviction, featuring those old standby rock instruments, and yes, music that is as old as Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.  The Strokes haven’t invented anything new, but we celebrate Columbus Day in this culture, so we should celebrate the Strokes.  And we did, which is the major reason why people have been so turned off by them.

 

Yes, they were overhyped…yes they were called the saviors of rock, but don’t let that dissuade you from owning this record.  It is every teenager’s dream to go into their basement and write these songs, play them with their friends, get paid to perform them at a bar, drink underage, and score with some fat chick.  And we were all teenagers, so we can all relate.  This sound is what made rock music, rock music, and the record just rules: a sloppy, hooky, riding in your car, hanging out with your friends, teenaged call to the garage (but bring your make-up). 

 

The title track gets it all started with that dirty and unpolished sound, featuring a constant cymbals clank and “I don’t care” attitude: lazy, smart, snotty rock with ridiculously melodic bass playing from Fraiture.  The first single, and major reason for their sudden exposure, The Modern Age” follows and is more frantic, but that just makes it catchier.  I’m not sure why Casablancas’s vocals are pushed so far back in the mix, but the song still smokes and the guitar solo makes you play it in the air.  Soma” has a more pop/punk feel and isn’t one of the better tunes on the album, although it is still good enough and short enough not to wear out its welcome.  Barely Legal” is another slightly more punk/pop song with a brilliant chorus that starts “And all together it went well…”  The rest of the tune doesn’t quite live up to that great hook, and it is too long at four minutes, but it is still a grooving tune. 

 

Someday” absolutely rocks—a classic, perfect song capturing everything that is good about rock music in its three minutes.  This is one of the best songs of the decade so far, and it couldn’t be catchier, more snarlin’, or more rockin.  Alone, Together” has a spy movie sound and more funk than the rest of the album.  Again, Fraiture’s bass carries the tune, and the guitar solo makes me want to go back in time to my hometown and punch my seventh grade English teacher Mr. Farr (that prick) and break my step dad’s car window while I’m messing with the Space/Time Continuum.  Last Nite” follows and is another perfect rock song.  Who the hell are these guys?  I don’t give a shit about hype…this song rules, even if it is exactly like Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life.”  Hard To Explain” is almost as good, though Casablancas’s vocals are pushed back in the mix again.  Regardless, the song has a great electric riff, and is just a hair too long, but if you aren’t jumping around singing along at this point, go listen to some John Tesh, you wuss. 

 

New York City Cops” follows on the original album, and is a lot harsher adding some much-needed edge.  The song itself was pulled from the American release of the album out of respect for the police officers that served during September 11th (we Americans got a bastardized album cover too).  I understand and agree with the decision about the song, but it is still a shame, as the slightly circus feel and great punk attitude really makes it one of the best songs on an album full of great tunes.  Trying Your Luck” is next and is their most adventurous track with its time changes and funky style reminiscent of a less rowdy Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Take It Or Leave It” closes out the album with more of the same garage sound, with Casablancas going crazy on the chorus.  The back and forth pulsating grove is great and the album finishes as sloppy and cordial as when it started.

 

What a great record.  Actually refreshing is the better word.  It pisses me off that it comes from some New York City rich kids, but it makes me smile a little too…rock music is the great equalizer.  I don’t know any of the other “the-bands,” but if they sound like this, you can call me their new groupie (minus all the sex).  Go out and buy “Is This It” and judge for yourself.

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