Is This It?
is one of the most exciting and energetic debut albums to spring from New York's long-dormant club scene. The Strokes deliver the downtown themes of sex, drugs and rock & roll with a cool nonchalance. Following the success of their earlier singles, the Strokes have again found success with songs such as “Hard to Explain” and “Barely Legal”.
You have to laugh. Being a New Yorker myself, I can only stand back and snigger when I see the music press proudly proclaiming how amazing New York is suddenly only to watch two weeks later as they then shout "New York? That was so last week - it's Detroit now!" What's going on here? New York has always been chock full of great bands (as has Detroit, by the way) and let's be honest - it's always been a rock and roll town (hip-hop notwithstanding by the way because we all know about that scene!). Now then, let me set the record straight. Just because some music journalist decides that New York is super hip this year does not mean that suddenly tons of great bands just popped up where there were none before. Rudy Gulliani may have clamped down hard on the club scene, but then again putting The Strokes in the same league as club kids at Twilo wouldn't really work now, would it?
But that's all academic.
At the centre of this big mess of NYC coolness are our good friends: The Strokes. Undoubtably, one of the most over-hyped bands of this year, if not the past five. Now I'm someone who firmly believes that where there's smoke, there's usually fire. And where there's fire, I feel it's usually best to have a fire extinguisher in hand, ready to smother any flames of hype before they get too big and begin hurting innocent bystanders.
The problem with the Strokes is that overhyped or not, they really are worthy of great praise. Formed around 1995 or so, they spent a few years playing the tried and tested Manhattan club circuit until finally coming up with a 3 track demo. That demo eventually made it to the offices of Rough Trade, where, well, the rest is history, innit? Everything about the band - from the songwriting (Taking all the best elements of The Stooges, Television and The Velvet Underground not as theft but as influence) to the lyrics ("New York City Cops" - enough said) to the production (as raw and indie as you can get) is just fantastic. There's no real pretence (ok, they're all privileged white kids, but nobody's counting) or ulterior motive. They just do what they do and my God, do they do it well, in this really weird Warhol-esque way.
Listening to Is This It reminds me very much that The Strokes could have been in an episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk and company find a record that's been transported back from the back shelves of a record store in the early 80s to the future (read: 'Bleeker Bobs' or 'It's Only Rock and Roll' all you newly converted NYC aficionados). Then Kirk turns to Spock and remarks on how it perfectly captures the spirit and sound of the city during that time. That's only logical - that record comes from that time and place, Spock would say.
But The Strokes are not from 1977 or 1981 or 1984. They are from 2001 and that's what makes them so unique. One listen to "Hard to Explain", and I guarantee you'll be singing it in your head for weeks. The same goes for "New York City Cops", "The Modern Age", "Barely Legal"...let's just say the whole damn album, while were at it, shall we? New York has always had a plethora of fantastic rock bands and you simply can't deny that The Stokes are a hell of a great band. Do yourself a favour and forget everything you read. Forget everything that comes out of the bands mouths. Forget you've even heard about them. Just get this CD as if you knew nothing about them, put it on your stereo, turn the volume all the way up and just........ listen. Don't believe the hype - they really are that good. --Olli Siebelt
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