Is This It?
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.
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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