It's not their fault that the rockcrit hype machine greeted the band's lightweight, but highly enjoyable 2001 debut album Is This It as a revolutionary, era-defining work. So, by the same token, they don't deserve the inevitable backlash that follows such overstatement.

Even on their first album, you could sense the Strokes were limited, that they were the kind of band that self-consciously defined its sound early, and probably wouldn't change much. Granted, two albums into a career, it's a bit early to draw too many conclusions, but Room on Fire - the Strokes' sophomore album - is very nearly a carbon copy of the band's first effort, give or take a tentative stab at a ballad ("Under Control") and some Cars-ian keyboards and handclaps on the single "12:51."

The Strokes

It wouldn't quite be fair to say that the Strokes' appeal is equivalent to that of the Stray Cats in the early '80s - after all, the Strokes come off as modern guys with a touch of retro-chic, while the Stray Cats were greased-back cartoons. But musically, at least, the comparison fits.

Both bands won favor by taking an anachronistic sound - in the Strokes' case, the seminal New York art-punk of bands like the Velvet Underground and Richard Hell & the Voidoids - and making it fresh simply by pretending it was still relevant. Even Strokes singer Julian Casablancas seems to sense the time warp he's operating in, when he sings: "Whose culture is this and does anybody know?"

As they proved on their first album, though, the Strokes are masters of the sonic detail - the churning rhythm guitars, the melodic, Cures-like bass runs and Casablancas' sneering boredom, delivered with such disembodied detachment it sounds like he's singing through a megaphone. In Casablancas' song-world, he and his bandmates are always on the move. In various songs, he sings that he's "a train moving too fast," someone who "never needed anybody," and implores his partner "please don't slow me down/if I'm going too fast." But for all their superficial pleasures, the Strokes really aren't moving fast enough. •

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