The STROKES – ” Is This It ” Released July 30th 2001

Posted: August 2, 2021 in MUSIC
The Strokes' 'Is This It' turns 20

Though Is This It? is often rightfully praised as a garage rock masterpiece, perhaps the best song The Strokes have written is on their often-overlooked but also excellent sophomore album “Room on Fire“. Beginning with the palm-muted tremolo picking of Albert Hammond Jr., “What Ever Happened?” couldn’t have been on the debut; it showed precision and complexity not previously present, without muddying the band’s sound at all. Five unassuming men from New York City called The Strokes were able to hit with the impact that they did, a potent mixture of timing and talent, style and substance. Guitar music always seemed to be on the verge of dying, as claimed by music critics, but here came a little lo-fi garage rock group to salvage it. The quintet Julian Casablancas, Albert Hammond Jr., Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraiture, and Fabrizio Moretti – became unexpected style icons: with their double denim looks, tight leather jackets, unkempt hair, and general scruffiness, they were hip but relatable.

Casablancas was a magnetic but withdrawn frontman too, exuding charisma without even trying. He mumbled lyrics, he snarled lines with languorous insouciance, coolness personified. 

And what The Strokes sang about was equally relatable. Most of the songs on “Is This It” are simple tales of late night debauchery, of being young and alive in the big city. Drugs and alcohol, sex and partying; it was simplistic song writing but it hit the right notes. Everything about The Strokes’s music was aspirational, provoking yearning on the listener’s part to be living the life of Casablancas and co. 

It was both instantly recognizable as The Strokes and something totally different. When Julian Casablancas exclaims “I want to be forgotten,” the fact of the matter is had “Room on Fire” been a stinker, it might have been easy to dismiss the band and the debut’s place in history. “What Ever Happened?” ensured that they would not be forgotten and cemented the band’s career.

Throughout the 2000s, New York quintet The Strokes were considered the kings of post-punk revival. Drawing from artists like The Doors, Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam, Bob Marley, and most notably, The Velvet Underground, their charming indie/garage rock raucousness was virtually everywhere for several years. Of course, it all started when they inspired their own set of peers and protégées — including LCD Soundsystem, The Killers, and Kings of Leon — while skyrocketing into critical and commercial favour with 2001’s debut LP, “Is This It”, which  is among “The Top 100 Albums of the Decade” .

Valensi and Hammond Jr. were frightening prospects on guitar, duelling with ferocious abandon. Moretti provided an unceasingly solid – and quintessentially garage base on drums that drove tracks forward. Fraiture’s deceptively melodic bass lines complemented Casablancas’s nonchalant drawl. Is This It was purposefully produced to capture the spirit of the band’s live performances and the record sounds raw without losing any semblance of quality.

Although 2003’s Room on Fire and 2005’s First Impressions of Earth weren’t as widely celebrated by the press — due mainly to a perceived lack of newness and a penchant for safe song writing they were generally welcomed by fans. Plus, they did equally well on the UK Albums Chart as that first effort . Thus, it came as quite a surprise when the band announced that they were going on a hiatus following the 2006 tour for First Impressions of Earth. For the next three years or so, they worked on solo projects and other things, waiting until around March 2009 to officially announce that they were writing new material for their fourth album.

None of their following five albums have come close to matching the quality of their debut but this says more about the quality of that record more than anything. The Strokes didn’t save guitar music with “Is This It”  they just reminded us how good rock could be.

Unsurprisingly, then, expectations were particularly elevated for The Strokes’ return, as they sought to retain their beloved qualities while also pushing their sound further than ever. Indeed, “Angles” released exactly two years later, on March 18th, 2011, via RCA Records — did precisely that, striking a very likable and commendable balance between familiar techniques and surprising experimentation. Although the finished collection was applauded for its reinvigorating cohesion and adventurous asides, the process of getting there was anything but easy, resulting in a textbook example of creators greatly yet beneficially suffering for their art.

The Strokes

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