Thursday, February 14, 2008

No. 367: Is This It

(U.S. cover)

(International cover)
Band: The Strokes
Album: Is This It
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: While it isn't groundbreaking like the fine folks at RCA said it would be, there is little to quibble with. The album is one of the finest rock and roll records of the new century. It's a clear cop of the successes of the genre – the come-hither vocals, the metronomic drums, the riff-heavy guitar, etc. -- and it apes them all very well.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't know that it does. It's a fine, fine record.
Best song: The record is brilliantly catchy, but “Hard To Explain” is probably the best song.
Worst song: Again, the whole record is amazing, but the first single, “Last Nite,” was not worth the first single-dom.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

I was music director of our college radio station in Sept. 2001. This is important because Sept. 2001 was the month that the hype of the debut Strokes record hit a fever pitch. Of course, Sept. 2001 was also when two planes hit the World Trade Center towers.

So, for me, “Is This It” will always remind me a little bit of Sept. 11, 2001. The band was to be the main attraction at the CMJ Music Marathon that was postponed due to the attacks. The promotional runup to CMJ was huge on the record, enough to make any music director hate the band.

I was among those people. When the record reached our station, I refused to play it during my radio shifts, largely because I was so sick of it. Our DJs played that album like it was going out of style. Like any other hugely promoted record, I had no interest in hearing the record.

Boy, was that dumb.

I picked up an import copy of the record a few months after the record was released. Wow. What a revelation. The album's hooks are almost hip hop-esque in their catchiness. The guitar lines are razor sharp, repetitive (again, catchy) and awesome. And Julian Casablancas' voice. Oh, boy.

I know this isn't the type of thing you hear a lot about male voices, but Casablancas' voice is sexy. He doesn't often get into his raspy register (he hits it on the chorus of “NYC Cops” and towards the end of several other songs), but when he does, it compliments his smooth apathetic singing voice. It's almost the voice of the teenage boys that love the record; Young and confused, yet also strong.

I'd be lying if I said I cared about what he is singing. I don't. He could be singing “Deutschland über alles” and I think I'd still be OK with it.

And, boy, is he handsome!


The Strokes are hardly a great band. They break no ground. They don't play with song structures, they don't do much in the way of singing about anything other than love, partying and other spoils of being a Williamsburg hipster.In essence, I can't really see anyone calling The Strokes their favorite band.

Still, on sheer singability of the records, it's hard to beat this album.

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