Review Summary: Though it's not the classic many make it out to be, The Strokes debut effort is very, very good and is still their defining effort.
The Strokes, led by Julian Casablancas, came onto the music scene with this album in 2001 and absolutely blew everyone away. Their wonderfully simple 70s throwback sound, filled with catchy guitar lines, seduced both fans and critics alike, leading it to be named in a majority of the best of the decade lists released by many critics. While it is indeed a very enjoyable listen, it’s not quite the classic that many claim it to be, for there are simply too many flaws.
While the brilliance of the album may have surprised many, if one looked hard enough, he could see many indicators of the storm of popularity that the band created. Once the band released their EP “The Modern Age”, a massive bidding war began for the band, one of the biggest in recent memory. This was probably lost on many people, which adds to the surprise of this album being brilliant. The surprise could have something to do with why people are so quick to love this album. They hear the songs, are shocked at how simple and enjoyable the music is, and over-rate the album as a result. They become attached to the album, and by the time they have listened to it enough to a point where they should notice the flaws of the album, it’s too late, for the album now is ingrained into their brain as a classic.
I know it sounds like I’m bagging on this album completely, but I actually like it a lot. The guitar parts interchange wonderfully, and even though they are not incredibly technically difficult, you would be very hard pressed to find an album filled with so many catchy riffs as this one. Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi are constantly on the same page, making the guitars for this band easily some of the best guitar parts around today. Casablancas’s voice is good, when it’s not being needlessly distorted. Nikolai Fraiture is a good bassist, writing what is possibly the catchiest bass-line ever written in album opener “Is This It”. The song is a definite highlight. It starts out with what sounds like the sound effect when you lose a video game. Light guitars come in over a simple beat from Fab Moretti and singing from Casablancas. A decent opener, the listener thinks, when suddenly this wonderfully catchy bass-line comes in and pulls everything together.
Another flaw that is to be found in the album is Fab Moretti’s drumming. He is absolutely incapable of playing anything but simple beats. Sometimes a band can work around a drummer’s deficiencies, but not in this case. In some songs , his drumming actually detracts from the sound. Not only this, he doesn’t even use a lot of different simple beats. His repertoire of beats consists of, at most, 7 different beats that he interchanges throughout the album. Sometimes the band lets him start the song and he does something decent, but he always goes back to comfortable, dreadfully simple beats.
All momentum that could’ve been generated from the strong opener is lost after the next two tracks. “The Modern Age”, though acclaimed by many as a highlight of the album, is, in my humble opinion, one of the worst songs on the album. The drums don’t really match the guitar part all that well, Casablancas can’t be understood, and, aside from a nice solo, nothing great instrumentally is really going on. “Soma” is another definite weak point in the album, suffering from being very similar to the previous track and not being a good track on its own as well.
From here on out though, it’s almost all good. “Barely Legal” and “Last Nite” both are very good tracks, and are very similar, featuring very powerful vocal parts which drive the song. The instruments complement Julian’s voice very well, but allow him to take center stage. “New York City Cops” is a very humorous song, and is instrumentally good as well, featuring a surging lead guitar line and a driving, powerful beat from Moretti . The highlight of the song is the chorus, where Casablancas sings, “New York City cops, New York City cops, New York City cops, they ain’t too smart,”, although the part where everything drops out except the drums works quite well too.
“Someday” is a beautiful track lyrically and musically. Laid-back guitars set the stage for the best and most meaningful lyrics on the album, concerning many topics. The lyrics seem to have a very deep meaning that I can’t quite put my finger on. This is followed by the powerful, “Alone, Together,” which features one of the best, most concise guitar solos I have ever heard. "Hard to Explain" is another one of the few tracks to feature a nice, driving beat, even if it is simple.
All in all, this is definitely worth a listen. Anyone who has not heard this album needs to, for it has the potential for anyone to pick it up and think that it’s a classic immediately. Though it doesn’t quite do it for me (considering that I really listen for technically sound, or at least intricate drumming, this never really had the chance of become a classic for me), maybe it will for you. The Strokes would have such great success with this album that they would release what was essentially the same album only a year later and still have critics and fans fawn over it. It has it flaws, but every debut does (except maybe Funeral). So get it, put it into your car, roll the windows down, and blast it. And enjoy.
Is This It
Hard to Explain