The Strokes - Is This It
4 1/2 Stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: February 16, 2002
By Holiday GirodDespite their risky, experimental and often blindingly brilliant music, Radiohead, contrary to what some critics profess, is not the band that's going to save rock 'n' roll. No, the band that's going to bear that burden has to be much more dangerous, immediate and, like the best rockers before them (Elvis, Morrison, Keith, Lou, Bowie and Cobain) have an air of coolness that you can cut with a knife.
Enter The Strokes, a hip young New York quintet of rockers full of pimples, peach-fuzz and I'm-waiting-for-the-man attitude. On their debut album Is This It the band has delivered a long overdue wake-up call to a rock scene that's had its head under the covers for way too long now. Conjuring up the track-marked, leather-whipped coolness of vintage Lou Reed, along with the pinhead quirkiness of early Talking Heads and the 911 urgency of New York's mid-'70s punk scene The Strokes have quite simply injected the fun, along with a little seedy back-alley danger, back into rock music.
From the sneering catchy pop of their first single "Last Night" and sunshine promise of "Someday" to the spastic Heads' inspired guitars and quirky rhythms on "When It Started" this rag-tag group of bowery boys leaves their listeners covered in a filthy coat of Lower East Side grime that you'll find you're not going to want to wash off any time soon.
There are two traits that run through Is This It that makes it so damn appealing. The first is an unbridled energy and enthusiasm that cooly starts from song one and steamrolls though to the end, making this short album (35:50 minutes) seem even more ridiculously short than it already is. Of course, that's the beauty, as it demands repeated spins.
The other reoccurring characteristic is Julian Casablancas' vocals that explode from deadpan nonchalance to powder keg screaming without warning. Muffled and mumbled - with the ability to hang around the simple but catchy melodies like he's waiting for a bus - it sounds as if he's singing every track into an empty Folgers can. But make no mistake, with such an indifferent, devil-may-care attitude, Casablancas makes it good to the last drop.
Backed by one the scrappiest little rock combos in recent history, with guitars that pierce, jangle and jerk (courtesy of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.) and a rickety but exhilarating rhythm section (bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fab Moretti) these guys have the same strange allure as an improv comedy act teetering between side-splitting humor and falling flat on their faces. And similarly, The Strokes are bound to either drive their audience to a sweaty fever pitch or fall off the stage trying.
The question that one is left with after embracing this great album is, do The Strokes have what it takes to follow-up their own tough opening act? Let's hope so.
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