Beneath an ominously emptier New York skyline, NYC natives, the Strokes yanked a potentially controversial track off their forthcoming album, (the track, “New York City Cops” was about corrupt police) shelving its anticipated release for two weeks. With their street date getting a 14-day delay it was just a little more time for hype”s bright fire to burn, while ashes cooled in the city.
The Strokes have arrived. And with them comes one of the most poignant and relevant arrivals in recent memory. The band”s desperation clips along briskly and the Strokes dart through the 11 tracks on their filler-less debut, Is This It. It is an exigency reflecting more than this quintet of barely 20-somethings could”ve ever expected out of their privileged upbringings. It”s an insistence captured on tape in singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas” vocals they (the vocals) are a splendid mix of a young Lou Reed singing though a megaphone on a quiet setting, his voice is a perfect continuation of New York”s rich rock vocal tradition. Casablancas” bandmates bounce along through a series of rhythms, sounding at times less and less like the straight-ahead rock band that they are, instead dawdling in brief moments of soul.
The energy captured on Is This It is a salty sweet mixture of attitude and fortitude, the album sounds like the band is sliding around on a booze slickened stage playing for little more than a cold beer at their set”s end. There are moments of screeching desperation where the Strokes find themselves begging for your ear and your time. Casablancas” no nonsense voice reaches through jangling guitars, fuzz and driving basslines dragging listeners down into the dark basement the album bursts out of.
Although the Strokes are Casablancas” songwriting vehicle, the rest of the band makes his musical engine run. The tunes are narrative darts of nostalgia crisp with tales straight from New York”s streets. “Barely Legal” jumps and skips along with the naive arrogance of youth ebbing through its lyrics “I didn”t take no shortcuts/I spent the money that I saved up.” Despite his more than pampered upper class upbringing we find ourselves pulled in by Casablancas” cry “I want it all/I just can”t figure out, nothing,” and even better, we believe him.
Honesty and believability are Is This It”s two best friends. The Strokes are overtly candid, unpretentious and simultaneously arrogant. Casablancas” beleagured and begrudged vocals sometimes sound completely bored and disenfranchised with everything in the world, and in his cynicism lies much of his honesty.
The constant driving of droning rhythm guitars allow the other instruments space to take over and push their own melodies and countermelodies. Bassist Nikolai Fraiture”s bouncing bassline on the title track drives underneath Casablancas” distanced, impassioned vocals.
The biggest jabs thrown at the Strokes may be their willingness to bear homage to their influences. Maybe it”s a learned behavior, perhaps it stems from New York”s multi-cultural community that thrives on its own diversity. Granted, the Strokes do take long drags from the fags of The Velvets and Television, and at the same time they are flicking ashes off their leather jackets with the Stooges. Perhaps there is so much of New York”s rich spirit entrenched in the Strokes that Is This It is the most important and timely album of the year.