Review Summary: Is This It? 0.5
“I wanna be forgotten, and I don’t wanna be reminded,” sings Julian Casablancas in the brilliant opener to The Strokes’ sophomore effort. Following up “Is This It?” was always going to be quite difficult. The amount of praised that their debut received was enormous. The Strokes could’ve done a number of things with this follow-up effort. They could’ve written what amounted to the same album (think Neon Bible by Arcade Fire). They could’ve expanded their horizons slightly, experimented a bit, but mainly keep things the same (Favourite Worst Nightmare the Arctic Monkeys). Or they could’ve blown everything from their first album away and gone for a completely different sound (Radiohead with The Bends). Sadly, they went with the former (as is indicated by my summary), which is, not coincidentally, the only one of the three which saw the band put out a worse album with their sophomore effort.
Room on Fire is basically a rehash of “Is This It?” with less highs and more lows. The only major change is that they use synth lines in a couple of songs, and even that isn’t really that big of a change. The two albums honestly could’ve been recorded in the same sessions; I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out that they were. The band decided to ride the wave of popularity that came with their debut, and as a result took the safe path. Which worked quite well, seeing as the album sold pretty well and had a positive reception by critics.
This isn’t to say the music on the album is bad. On the contrary, the strongest points of the album match and even possibly exceed those of their predecessor. “What Ever Happened?” is a perfect opener. Fab plays a somewhat interesting beat over quickly strummed guitar, then Julian comes in with the previously mentioned opening lyric, which, by the way, is pretty brilliant for an opener. This is followed by “Reptilia”, which could possibly be the best song The Strokes had released at this point in their brief careers, mainly because it features the best guitar parts, and that’s really what this band is all about. The riff in the pre-chorus is so incessantly catchy, it’s barely legal (heh).
“Under Control” shows a more mellow side of The Strokes, possibly hinting at the experiments the band would undertake with their next album. “The End Has No End” is one of the few times where Fab’s incredibly simple beat actually adds something to the song. You would think that a drum solo where he does nothing but play the simplest beat possible wouldn’t work out, but it does. Really well. Both of these tracks are the high points of Fab’s drumming on the album, and are also two of the best tracks.
Not everything on this album is good, however. Fab’s beat in “Automatic Stop” does the opposite of what it does on “The End Has No End”, ruining what could’ve potentially been a highlight, with its catchy guitar and well-placed synth line. Tracks 5-7 are all weak, not featuring a single great moment throughout the entire span of three songs. These three tracks bring down the album tremendously.
If this album had been the band’s debut, it would’ve been a solid 3.5. However, considering it’s essentially a twin of its predecessor, I can only give it a 3. The fact that the band took no chances and did the same thing is both depressing and indicates that they weren’t entirely ready to have the spotlight on them, musically. While being a worthy addition to any collection of a Strokes fan, if you’re a casual listener, this definitely isn’t the album for you, especially if you want to get into The Strokes.
What Ever Happened?
The End Has No End