Review by LarryG|
4 stars out of 4
Especially if you're a fan of guitar based new wave music from the
late 70s and early 80s, you should love The Strokes' debut CD Is This
It. It's fun to try to figure which band The Strokes sound like on
each song. But Is This It isn't just a well made record for music
geeks that is only of academic interest. Is This It is very enjoyable
rock and roll. Julian Casablancas is a cool, charismatic singer who
writes catchy, exuberant songs. The Strokes play tight, energized
music rocketed forward by the nonstop, jagged, intertwined guitar
lines of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi.
While The Strokes clearly borrow from music of 20 to 25 years ago
their sound isn't just a rehash. In fact, Is This It was one of 2001's
freshest sounding rock records. A key element of Is This It is its
musicians' energy. Hammond kicks Last Nite into action with a riff
copped from the one Mike Campbell played on Tom Petty's American Girl
but that's not all the song has going for it. I love Casablancas'
Iggy Pop style croon as he icily dismisses his girlfriend's problems
that no one(not even spaceships or her girlfriends) understands and
walks out. Nikolai Fraiture plays a great, meaty bass line and Hammond
does a short but very distinctive guitar solo that, not surprisingly,
has been used for tv commercials. Fab Moretti's pounding drums set
the tone and tangle with the
guitars to great, edgy effect on The Modern Age. Valensi plays a good,
steady riff and the song doesn't flag as he plays a Velvet Underground
style solo. The filtered sound and cocky, smart ass attitude of Casablancas'
voice often reminds me of The Fall's Mark E. Smith. I like that style
but I especially like it on Modern Age when Casblancas gets juiced
up and joins the song's anarchic Rock N Roll Animal attitude, even
letting out a Lou Reed style "whoo". The Strokes are masters at building
an irresistible, energized sound. Hard To Explain creates a very appealing
momentum. The guitars, bass and drums are synched up and very fast
and seem to get even faster as the song progresses.
Casablancas' provides a great contrast as he vocal hangs back languorosly
before diving into his bandmates' pace on the chorus. Barely Legal
has a similar, insistent Gang Of Four style but also has breaks for
good guitar lines. Someday has the postive feel of an upbeat early
rocker or at least very optimistic Iggy Pop. Over smart, lively guitars,
Casablancas drops a little vocal attitude. He playfully responds to
a pledge to "stay by my side" with "darling your head's not right"
but also sings "yeah it hurts to say but I want you to stay."
The Strokes are clearly music fans with big record collections
and lots of influences. Their most obvious influence is another band
who, like The Strokes, came together in New York: the late 70s band
Television. Television's appeal came largely from the inventive guitar
playing of Richard Lloyd who, along with Tom Verlaine, played smart,
idiosyncratic lines that snaked through Verlaine's songs. I find Is
This It more fun than Television's very good but sometimes overly
arty work but, as with Television, the best thing about The Strokes
is probably the endlessly interesting guitar playing. The guitars
make even the few songs on Is This It that are less than compelling
well worth listening to. Nothing really happens on Alone, Together,
except when Casablancas channels Lou Reed, getting intense and singing
"it's just a fact to kill to survive." Still, the guitars create a
memorable, tense atmosphere. Is This It's title track, which opens
the CD, has ringing guitars and a sturdy bass playing at a leisurely
pace that creates an inviting and textured but inobtrusive setting
as Casablancas introduces his cheeky, seemingly effortless persona,
admitting "I just lie to get to your apartment." Soma, a perky, somewhat
empty headed rocker, is easily propelled by a giddy guitar line.
Is This It is the rare record that has fun, good music from start
to finish. Casablancas has written songs that are concise and simple
but smart. His lyrics are usual fairly minimal. They're mostly fairly
unembellished snapshots of downtown life that express Casablancas'
failure to understand women with frustration or bemusement. Casablancas
is a fascinating front man who oozes charisma. With a very strong
band, he's created one of the best records of 2001.