You turn on the radio on a summer’s afternoon of 2001. Expecting another nu-metal blunder, an aging boyband still lingering on from the 90s, or a tired old R&B beat that has been beaten to death. But you hear something different, something you haven’t heard before since records in the ’60s. You hear the blaring riff of an Epiphone Riviera with more instruments slowly leading in, and then you listened to a growling voice yell out to you. You hear “Last Nite,” the lead single for New York City’s hottest new band, The Strokes.
The album had been riding a wave of hype for months before it’s release, having produced an EP entitled The Modern Age, which would contain three songs that would be used on Is This It expect with slightly different lyrics. The EP came to such high praise that every major record label began a bidding war to sign the new band, finding the record as incredibly refreshing compared to what was on the Billboard Charts at that time.
However, what was truly refreshing about the Strokes is that even though every single record produced was put into million-dollar studio techniques, they stuck to the classic vein: no laser sounds, no ethereal reverb, and no pre-programmed Aphex beats.
Their influences are fairly obvious if you are into grade and punk rock. Frontman Julian Casablancas has nearly identical vocals to the late Lou Reed’s in his Velvet Underground days. A type of singing that had been unheard of for decades. However, unlike the drug drawls and big-city topics of Reed’s music, Casablancas writes of the frustrations of relationships, practically being the entire album’s theme.
The record begins with “Is This It?” a sad melodic song with a heavy bassline, making you believe it would be a softer rock album, but as the next track clicks, “The Modern Age” begins. A track jam-packed with guitar solos and a hard-hitting snare. Every track afterward complements the one before, shifting the lyrics into one of more aggression. The record eventually ends with “Take It or Leave It,” an incredible garage rock song that makes even the White Stripes look like amateurs, and the squarest of squares start to bob their head. Their 2 Dollar Bill performance of the track gives the overall stage presence of The Strokes and the aggressiveness they can reach.
However, the record did receive some slight controversy. The 9th track of the album “When It Started” was a last-minute add-on to the wide release of Is This It. The track in its place was originally a single track released with “Hard to Explain,” entitled “New York City Cops” where the bridge contains the lyrics “New York City cops they ain’t too smart.” This obviously would be perceived with some sensitivity given the album’s release so close to the September 11th attacks, not to mention the track would be placed on the 9th place on an overall 11 track album.
Is This It will go down in music history as one of the greatest debut albums of all time, as seen time and time again on music publications internationally—the tracks reek of nostalgia and teenage freedom and the frustrations of being youthful. The hard-hitting drums, the groovy basslines, the complementing guitars, and Casablancas’ vocals are one worth hearing and storing in your music library.
IS THIS IT – THE STROKES: RATED 4.5/5