What do we expect from The Strokes?
When they came out in 2001 they were new and exciting and people went crazy for them. Their mix-and-match image and slurry-but-catchy sound happened to be exactly what people wanted at the time. I remember rolling around in December of that year with Is This It on an endless loop in my car. That album will always remind me of snow and bitter cold.
In 2003 Room On Fire came out. The critics all said it was Is This It, the sequel. And we know sequels not only copy the original, but don't do it as well. Personally, I always thought that was an unfair rap. Maybe there was nothing as immediately thrilling as Hard To Explain, but it was a solid record. Still, sales suffered and the fanbase shrunk.
But I don't think that was Room On Fire's fault. I think what critics and fans were responding to was the fact that The Strokes had already become kind of irrelevant.
Without going on too much of a tangent, I just want to explain myself a little bit. There are certain artists from whom we expect constant hit singles. If they don't produce them they have MAYBE a one album grace period before they are fed to the fish. It's all very short-term. I think the music industry would be content to produce ONLY these kinds of artists. Thankfully there are other artists who are in it for the long haul. They aren't going to give you a hit single every time, but they'll give you a solid album on nearly every try.
When a group like The Strokes comes out hyped up right away - there were national magazine articles about them before they'd even recorded an album - it's hard to tell what kind of artist they'll be. Room On Fire was a good indicator that they were looking at a career, and their new album, First Impressions Of Earth cements it.
Even so, the band obviously paid some attention to the critics. There are songs that are a marked departure from The Strokes' sound. Some of these departures don't work. Heart In A Cage and Vision Of Division both seem influenced by the dark '80s revival sound of bands like Interpol (ironic, because The Strokes pretty much kicked open the doors for bands like that). Ask Me Anything and Killing Lies are both slow burners, but don't offer much save boredom.
But other songs do manage to do something different and still work. Ize Of The World, despite having a clumsy lyrical premise, is arena-worthy, something I would never have thought to call The Strokes before. Electricityscape sounds like 21st Century Cars, which could never be a bad thing. And 15 Minutes comes on like The Strokes covering John Denver, but it builds in tempo, volume, and excitement.
Even so, the best songs on the album are the ones with that trusted Strokesy sound. These include the excellent opener You Only Live Once, the pretty ballad Evening Sun, and the modern rockabilly of Red Light. My favorite song is Razorblade. It has your expected skipping guitar part and marching drums and a lyrics that defraud a selfish girlfriend. And yes, the melody of the chorus is totally ripped off from Barry Manilow's Mandy. I'm not the first to point this out, but damn if it doesn't sound great.
So what do we expect from The Strokes? After this album, I'm going to expect a long satisfying career.
Fave Song: Razorblade