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THE STROKES

Is This It?
Rating: 3
Squirm factor: 4
   Jessica's boss asked me to review this record, so let me say that this is the type of record enjoyed by sophisticated, wise and perspicacious music lovers.
   Philistines like me might demand a little more entertainment value, though.
   To be honest, I only got the chance to listen to this once (its owner loves it so much he could only bear to part with it for one weekend), and it may have charms that aren't apparent on first listen. But my impressions are that the Strokes want to be the Ramones for the new century. Just as the Ramones loved surf music and British Invasion pop (hence Joey's fake British accent) but lacked the ability to play it straight, and therefore emerged with a rudimentary take on a classic style, so the Strokes love the drony anti-pop of the late sixties and early seventies like the Velvet Underground or the Stooges (hence Julian Casablancas' obvious Lou Reed affectations), but lack the chops to pull it off (and you're sure in trouble if you can't play a VU song!), and emerge with a rudimentary take on a critically enshrined, though unpopular, style.
   The main difference being that the Ramones started from a style with frequent chord changes and active melodies, so that, rudimentary as their music was, it possessed energy and catchiness. The Strokes are working from a style that wasn't all that interesting to begin with, being based on infrequent chord changes and minimal melodies. So the Strokes' whole record is filled with songs that pound away on the same chord for thirty seconds or more, on top of which are one- or two-note tunes. The repetitiveness is enough drive your average pop fan mad. By the fourth song I was ready to smash my head against the stereo — even Abe was batting at the controls!
   Julian Casablancas seems like a talented guy, and it's a shame he's saddled with such incompetent bandmates. His voice has a lot of texture, and he's got a good way of expressing the content of his lyrics without overemoting. For some reason, the producer stuck a mid-pass filter on every song; it's a neat effect once in a while, but halfway through the record you want Casablancas to hang up the telephone already and start singing like a normal person. Aside from bassist Nikolai Fraiture, who gets in a nice bubbling line under "Is This It?", the rest of the Strokes are barely competent at their instruments. Fabrizio Moretti has allegedly been playing the drums since age 5; he's learned remarkably little about it. Every song has the same robotic eight-to-the-bar beat with no syncopation, no accents, no subtlety. When he breaks into a swing on "Someday" it's like the parting of the Red Sea; miraculous, but never repeated. The presence of two guitarists seems entirely redundant, as they chop away at the same downstrokes throughout the album. Johnny Ramone is Joe Satriani compared to these goofs.
   If you're fond of their influences, it might be fun to groove on the Strokes' amateurish attempts to evoke their spirits; if, like me, you prefer music that moves, this record is close to excruciating in its ugly arrangements and non-existent melodies.
   Given a couple years to practice and write songs, I think their next album could be pretty interesting, but they're nowhere near ready for the stardom that's been handed them now.

READER COMMENTS

  • From Jessica (aka Mrs. Steve and Abe): I tend to agree with the whole review. If they just got a new producer, I think their next album could go platinum (maybe they could just redo this album...). I'm kind of tired of everything that's out there and, frankly, we could use a male singer who doesn't try to impersonate Eddie Vedder all the time (*cough*CREED*cough*). Julian could be that guy.

  • From Kurt Hankenson (Jessica's boss): Well...at least you gave it a better review than Britney...... Seriously though, to understand why I recommeded this one to you guys, I must describe my musical history...all the way back to my early years (ie. Abe) when my Dad played alot of Dylan and Harry Chapin. Thus, for me to diverge away from whinny, witty lyrics is difficult (as an aside, I would give Self Portrait another chance - true, it does suck, but you will come upon a time in your life where it fits perfectly!). But, because my wife accuses me of being boring unless I do, I try other things now and again. Most recently, over the past five years or so, I have been into Uncle Tupelo (I was actually a minor fan while a youngster in central Illinois in the late 80s-early 90s) leading to Son Volt and Wilco (yes, I am one of those). Some Bottle Rockets, Golden Smog, Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams... but for the most part that is it (a little pedal steel gets my heart a beatin' and my feet a stompin').
    So, recently I have been accused of being boring because I only listen to alt-country (I can't win)...thus, I have been trying to expand my musical listening repetoire. Alas, The Strokes came highly recommended. Are they the Ramones? or dare we say Velvet Underground or the Stooges (not because of quality but because of historical reasons!)??
    No.
    But hell, its still better than what the kiddies are listening to!

  • From Tony Souza: There has been a lot of hype surrounding this band, and when I first listened to it, I wasn't too impressed. But upon repeated listens, I grew to like it. Most of the songs are catchy, and I like the interplay between the two guitarists (it is primitive, but it works for me in this context). The vocals do use the telephone effect too much, but again, it doesn't bother me as much as it does other listeners. I don't think they're the "saviors of rock and roll" as many of the critics have called them. The problem with the band, IMHO, is that their influences are too obvious, so they don't sound original enough. To me, for a band to have a big impact, they have to take their influences and create something that is their own. For example, Nirvana took Black Sabbath, the Beatles, and punk rock and whatever they were hearing in the local and national underground scene, and created something that was their own.
    The Strokes' music doesn't do that. Personally, I think the Strokes have more in common with the Black Crowes than anything else. Musically, they are obviously different (Rolling Stones/Faces vs. V.U./Television), but the impact on the listener similar. When the Black Crowes (a group I grew to love) came out in 1990, I remember people saying how great it was to hear good ol' rock and roll again instead of synth-driven pop or hair-metal. And it was. But I see the pattern repeating itself again with the Strokes, only this time it's in reaction to boy/girl bands and nu metal and rap/metal groups. The Strokes have put out a fun, but not too original, record. Using your scale, I would rate it a 4, on a good day, a 5.

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