Despite being New York-based, the Strokes’ Is This It was released in the U.K. a month earlier than in the U.S. In between, New York’s World Trade Center towers were destroyed by terrorists and the less than flattering New York City Cops was pulled in favor of B-side When It Started. The U.S. version also went with less provocative cover art.
Is This It
With their debut album, these “mod ragamuffins” RS from New York City “mixed Velvet Underground grime and skinny-tie New Wave jangle” RS with “late-‘70s New York punk;” AMG in essence, they combined “all the trademarks of pre-1977 rock” EW or “pre-alternative alternative music.” EW The music was “sometimes acidic, always full of great melody,” RS and marked by “off-kilter guitar solos,” EW “primitive tom-tom rhythms (shades of the Velvets’ Moe Tucker),” EW and “an insistently chugging backbeat.” AMG It was all accompanied by “attitude-heavy slurring (by singer Julian Casablancas)” EW and his “raw, world-weary” AMG and “half-buried vocals (à la ‘Louie, Louie’).” EW
The Strokes intentionally sought out “the raw, muddy sonics of garage-band 45s.” EW Casablancas said they wanted to sound like “a band from the past that took a time trip into the future to make their record.” WK However, “the Strokes don’t rehash the sounds that inspire them,” AMG namely Television, the Stooges, and aforementioned Velvets, but “remake them in their own image.” AMG The subject matter behind their songs “reflected their own early-twenties lust for life.” AMG and made “the timeworn themes of sex, drugs, and rock & roll and the basic guitars-drum-bass lineup seem new and vital again.” AMG
On one hand, the Strokes became “the most hyped band [in the UK] since Oasis in the mid 1990s;” TB the New Musical Express “placed the Strokes at the head of its ‘new rock revolution’” TB However, “haters threw whatever they had at them.” SY After all, these were were guys straight out of “the exclusive Dwight School in Manhattan” TB decked out in “expensive leather and denim.” SY However, the band’s “daily twelve-hour practices are so blindingly evident on Is This It” SY that “the Strokes prove to be one of the few groups deserving of their glowing reviews.” AMG “The record is considered crucial in the development of other alternative bands and of the post-millennial music industry.” WKRolling Stone’s Joe Levy said it was “the stuff of which legends are made” WK while NME’s John Robinson said “Is This It was one of the best debut LPs by a guitar band during the past 20 years.” WK
The title track “sets the joys of being young, jaded, and yearning to a wonderfully bouncy bassline.” AMG It also “features a simple, metronomic drum line, a recurring feature in the rest of the record. Containing one of the slowest tempos, Is This It is the Strokes attempt at a ballad.” WK
“The band mix swaggering self-assurance with barely concealed insecurity on The Modern Age,” AMG “a rant about the oddness fo modern life.” WK It “includes a prominent guitar riff accompanied by a complementary drum line. Its staccato verse is followed by an upbeat, singalong chorus and a technically difficult guitar solo.” WK
The Modern Age
The band “reveal something akin to earnestness on Barely Legal,” AMG which “concerns the subject matter of a girl who has just arrived at the age of consent.” WK It also “containes some of the album’s softer guitar melodies inspired by Britpop as well as drumming patterns that evoke the sound of primitive 1980s drum machines.” WK
“Alone, Together continues the sexual theme by dropping hints about cunnilingus” WK and is “driven by a staccato rhythm, and climaxes first with a guitar solo, then a repeat of the central guitar hook.” WK That song and “Trying Your Luck develop the group's brooding, coming-down side.” AMG
Last Nite is another “guitar-driven song, but leans towards pop music influences. At its core, there are reggae-inspired rhythm guitar lines played by Hammond, and studio noise effects. The rhythm section plays simple interlocking notes and beats.” WK
“New York City Cops was created as a pastiche of rock band Aerosmith,” WK a song which also “revamps [Iggy Pop’s] ‘Lust for Life.’” AMG “Trying Your Luck, the album’s mellowest point, follows and shows more melancholic vocals.” WK
Hard to Explain
The Strokes combine “their raw power and infectious melodies on Hard to Explain, arguably the finest song they've written in their career.” AMG That song and “New York City Cops” incorporate “spliced ad-libbing extras from Casablancas” WK while “Explain” and Soma both contain “processed drum tracks using dynamic range compression and equalization studio techniques to make them sound like a drum machine.” WK The latter “incorporates jerky rhythms and starts and ends with the same guitar and drum chimes.” WK
Meanwhile, “Someday “is infused with rockabilly elements and interlocking guitar lines, …a recurrent element of Is This It.” WK That song and “Take It or Leave It capture the Strokes at their most sneeringly exuberant,” AMG both managing to “overcome the muddy, low-budget production.” EW The latter “is the only song in which Hammond used the bridge pickup of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.” WK
“The album’s cover photograph courted controversy for being too sexually explicit and was replaced for the U.S. market” WK with a “microscopic close-up of particle collisions.” WK “The American track listing was also amended in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks.” WK The song “New York City Cops” was replaced with B-side “When It Started.”
ZS Zagat Survey (2003). Music Guide: 1,000 Top Albums of All Time. Coordinator: Pat Blashill. Music Editor: Holly George-Warren. Editors: Betsy Andrews and Randi Gollin. Zagat Survey, LLC: New York, NY. Page 221.
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