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CD Review: The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth

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The Strokes don’t get any respect. Maybe it’s because five years ago, they were thought to be the second coming of rock and roll. Maybe it’s because they’re frighteningly rich. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re more good looking than most of the teenybopper bands out there today.

It’s gotten to the point where rival gangs of indie kids fight for dominance by seeing who can create the cattiest (and cleverest) remarks concerning them. Meanwhile, the kids who think of indie music merely as “weirdo music” don’t even give the Strokes the time of mind to mock them anymore. But what are Messrs. Casablancas, Fraiture, Hammond, Moretti and Valensi supposed to do? Ask their rich families to disown them? Change their identities and start a whole new lo-fi band? Should they completely change their sound and become the forerunners of a new wave of 2006 boy bands?

No! It’s time for listeners to forget the hype. It’s time for them to forget the first two albums and just let the Strokes try again. While 2003’s Room on Fire was certainly listenable, it often felt to the seasoned Strokes fan like Is This It…Part Two. It was okay, but it just went on to prove what live Strokes audiences have learned with every ticket sale: the Strokes may be pretty, but man, they can be really boring. But things started to change with the late 2005 release of “Juicebox.” I’ll second what a fellow Modern Pea Pod reviewer said about this track: when did bassist Nikolai Fraiture grow some balls and start forcing the other Strokes to let him turn up the volume? Seriously? And things only get better from the hodgepodge excitement of “Juicebox”: “You Only Live Once”, the new album’s lead-off track, instantly proves that at least Julian Casablancas has been studying his past endeavors. Gone are the automaton vocals; Casablancas no longer feels as if he were a Chuck E. Cheese robot, the listener can actually perceive tones and feelings. In “Electricityscape”, he literally howls lyrics. Howls, my friends. HOWLS. Now don’t get all crazy because I used capital letters and think we’re going to hear some Bright Eyesesque confessional weeping bullshit. If we had that, the only thing this review would say is “shit sandwich.” But come on, we’re getting somewhere.

This album feels like the first weeks of March do. Everything is muddy and slowly changing. No one can be exactly sure which direction the music is going; during many tracks, such as “Ask Me Anything”, “Killing Lies”, and “Razorblade”, the Strokes are heading towards the springtime of their career. “Killing Lies” sounds like no Strokes song ever made, and despite the mantra-esque chorus, it’s enjoyable every time simply because who thought they could make a song like this? But every once in a while, that old manufactured Strokes sound starts to reappear. For example, in “Heart in a Cage”, Casablancas’ vocals and Fabriziano Morretti’s drums combine to once again sound like Is This It, although Albert Hammond Jr. does attempt to liven up the mood with what sounds like a solo he learned from a book entitled Shredding for Beginners. Frankly, “Heart in a Cage” is the worst song on the album. And because it’s followed by the happily infectious “Razorblade”, it’s worth it. Also somewhat problematic is “15 Minutes”, where Casablancas sounds like a drunk man singing karaoke. But, at the same time, it works. Don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why. It just works. And that’s rock and roll. There will be some people who will despise how he sounds on “15 Minutes” and I know I should be one of them. But there’s a heartfelt plea beneath those slurred lyrics that just hits me smack-dab in the sternum every time.

Okay, okay, okay, this album is not the Strokes’ Exile on Main Street or even their Between the Buttons. It’s more like their equivalent to Their Satanic Majesties Request. Stones fans hated Satanic Majesties because of its psychedelic feel and called for Mick Jagger’s head on a platter. It was an experimental album that paved the way to the highlights of the Stones’ career. It was important. And First Impressions of Earth may wind up being just as important for the Strokes. Time may prove me wrong; the Strokes may once again descend into making the same album over and over and over again. But there’s hope to be found in the changing textures we see in First Impressions; hope which helps this optimistic reviewer think that, five years after “saving rock and roll,” the Strokes are finally beginning to work their way toward musical greatness.

Reviewed by Megan Giddings

This review is also posted on The Modern Pea Pod.

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  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    I just got the album today. I don’t think “Heart in a Cage” is all that terrible.

    Right now, I am finding most of these songs to be… solid. I haven’t heard a spectacular but I haven’t heard a shit song either. I haven’t gotten all the way through it once yet so I need to spend a little more time with the disc to get a feel for it.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Interesting comparison to Satanic and I loved the Bright Eyes dig. Good review. I’m still working my way through it…