It all seems so long ago. In the fall of 2001, as America recovered from the 9/11 attacks, the Strokes emerged as new rock saviors with Is This It, an album that chewed up the history of CBGBs and spat it out in a fresh and exciting form.
Beyond their command of the Velvets/Voidoids dictionary of cool, the Strokes had fashion-plate style and a sneering ambivalence that passed for mystique in those heady days. Courtney Love walked the streets of New York, followed by MTV2 cameras, singing their praises to strangers. Winona Ryder was heard (by Love, of course) to breathlessly gush at a Strokes gig, “Not since the Replacements ... ”
Lots of people swooned that way at the time. But with their hurried follow-up, Room On Fire, the Strokes pulled a But The Little Girls Understand, or to be more charitable about it, a Candy-O: That is, a sophomore release that so faithfully recapitulated the triumphs of the debut that those triumphs didn’t sound so triumphant anymore.
| First Impressions of Earth |
So a lot is riding on the Strokes’ third album, First Impressions of Earth. With the solid mid-tempo rocker “You Only Live Once” and the surf-punk raver “Juicebox,” the Strokes come out of the box sounding unaffected and invigorated. The energy flags quickly, however, and you’re left to ponder why this group found it necessary to lift the melody of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” for “Razorblade” (if it was done for laughs, the joke falls flat). Elsewhere, the sparse “Ask Me Anything” sounds like the Cars imitating Suicide, and “On the Other Side” finds singer Julian Casablancas sharing more of his misanthropy than anyone deserves to hear: “I hate them all/I hate myself for hating them.”
Four years ago, we might have mistaken this inane couplet for a profound expression of alienation from modern society. But, in the words of Anchorman’s Brian Fantana, “We were different people then.” •