Monday, January 17, 2011
Top 25 Albums #16. Is This It - The Strokes
Then at the dawn of the new century came the Garage Rock Revival, spearheaded by The Strokes and The White Stripes, and the music press exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Actually, that's inaccurate; the press used up all their breath hurling superlatives at these supposed rock saviors. Before their debut even landed, critics were singing the praises of the handsome young Strokes, who seemed both groomed for success (their attire and influences, which included The Velvet Underground and Television) and respectably dangerous ("Alone, Together" hints at cunnilingus). As hype goes, this was both a blessing and a curse. In 2001, nobody had more buzz than these sly Manhattanites. However, it wasn't long before the band was out of vogue.
Now that the 2000's are behind us, it's clear that Is This It is worthy of every single scrap of love it garnered. The idea that there could have been backlash for something so wonderful is silly and embarrassing. My favorite record of the last decade, Is This It captures everything good about the debut album: the promise, the innocence, the youthful vigor, the charisma and skill of a band that are still in the process of proving themselves to a judgmental world.
Things kick off with the title track, an unpretentious metropolitan ballad that introduces us to Julian Casablancas' plaintive cry, whose lo-fi crackle seems like it's coming through a payphone. The song also houses one of the most rubbery, bouncy, satisfying, and downright classic basslines I've ever heard. The second track, "The Modern Age", builds from a simple guitar-drum rhythm and exemplifies the band's spartan approach to music-making.
As if song titles like "Barely Legal" and "New York City Cops" didn't clue you in, Is This It may as well be called Sex and the City; it plainly and openly concerns itself with two things: coitus and Manhattan. Far from being pornographic boasts or seductive slow jams, the songs on Is This It detail all the buildup and fallout of young romance: the excitement, the visceral thrill, the disappointment, the lingering thoughts reflected in the album's title. The band was able to strike an inspiring balance between pop classicism and new-century innovation: the immediately appealing melody of a song like "Someday" is undeniable, but not without sonic nuance; for example, drummer Fabrizio Moretti deliberately tuned his kit to sound like an 80's drum machine.
As punishment for gifting us with something so gleefully perfect, The Strokes were doomed never to surpass or repeat the masterful garage-pop-rock of their debut. They should take comfort in the fact that nobody else has, either.