Review Summary: Fourteen of their best.You belong on the radio
, says “Electricityscape”. This song was sung for “You Only Live Once”, “Juice Box”, “Heart In A Cage” and “Razorblade”. These songs were probably sung a hundred times over, and their replay fun-factor is simply timeless; more pop from a few post-punk revivers. It’s still true that these songs could remain on the airwaves just for as long as they want, but the relaying chords pouring out of “Electricityscape” in every direction – inwards to a chorus or an outro to Casablancas’ usual howls and grumbles – remain rejected.
But it’s not just a tribute song that comes seven songs on from a popular opener. The only reason First Impressions
succumbs to boycott is because it loses all track of method, and when compared to the kept together rock that was Is This It
and even the self-plagiarised Room On Fire
, the third effort seems to be simply that, and nothing more – a nice try. The New Yorkers are harder to hold onto because of the obstacle they set themselves; four big ‘n’ bouncy singles front the album, each overwrought with Casablanca’s sneer and sleaze. The sleaze that’s displayed through “You Only Live Once” by the guitar (always
the guitar, with bass lines and drumbeats just vanilla cuts to make the Hammond/Valensi duo all the more lovable) and the optimistic use of the word baby. And again, through the aggressive “Juicebox”, where Casablancas’ voice loses all track of surroundings and just screams away tonelessly. From track one to six, it seems like unedited brilliance, and even the booming, somehow Spanish solos on “Vision Of Division” sound like Hammond Jr. having fun with the band, leading improvisation and generally being zany. It’s not the sound of the debut, or the sophomore, and for six tracks that’s all too desirable.
From then on, the album gets dinkier. The outrageous momentum doesn’t disappear one bit, but the sleaze becomes more of a cut-and-paste job. Casablancas’ voice begins to replicate the dirty amplifier distortion yet more, and so he can tremble away “Fear Of Sleep” in a way that makes it an essential to hear out, despite all its revolving, bare-bone instrumentation (and continuously poor drumming). The album is carried by the sum of its parts working better together, and even when Casablancas’ stammers out I’ve got nothing to say
times seven – er, and then times four – the huge, grandiose echo left behind him makes it the sentimental focus of First Impressions of Earth
– its ultimate intention is to separate the album’s two sides, and while it may well be the worst track on the album, it has enough to give.
From “Electricityscape” onwards, the album feels more like stepping into the unknown, a dark American alleyway to replace the previous six arena anthems. The difference is small, and it’s really such a tiny transition in tempo; “Ize Of The World” is menacing in pace, and a typically crooked Strokes marvel. Its lyrics come off sterile, as is a constant with most Strokes songs, with its political agenda thankfully forgettable, but its moody, ever-climaxing guitar lines – here equating with Casablanca’s louder and louder, higher and higher vocal work – are possibly the height of the album, and as catchy as “Juicebox”, with an even darker backdrop. “15 Minutes” may be recorded with off-putting potential (it sounds like Casablancas is going to throw up for three minutes), but it suddenly hastens up and saves itself. Then, the fastest and best moment of First Impressions
belongs to “Red Light”, with yet more focal guitar work slapping a great big car chase onto the end of the album, with Valensi and Hammond Jr. almost taking lead from one another, constantly matching one another in their respective areas as fast as possible.
On this high point, it’s hard to really stay mad at The Strokes. It’s not a huge separation from Is This It
, but it’s how Room On Fire
should have turned out the first time – aware of itself, but unpolished and an attempt at improvement, not sustainability. It’s fourteen sing-a-longs instead of eleven, and some are simply easier to remember, and others easier to repeat. In the end, it should be Room On Fire
that is tested and blamed for what will eventually see The Strokes out of relevance and off the planet; First Impressions of Earth
should be a celebration, and listened to the whole way through, it barely loses out to the gritty, murky sound that’s been going around for three years. This time, there’s just more of it to indulge in.