Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Strokes Under Par?

When the first Strokes LP, "Is This It?", came out in 2001, I picked up a copy because the buzz about the band was so solid. When their sophomore followup, "Room on Fire," came out two years later, I didn't bother. Early reviews of the record cited the proverbial second-record slump, and the first album wasn't so amazing that I needed to see what the band did next. I still haven't listened to that record at all. At all.

Yet I continued to be aware of -- and even interested in -- the band. They were based in New York City, they were about a decade younger than I was, and Fabrizio Moretti dated Drew Barrymore. So when the Strokes' third record was announced -- three years after the second -- and early reviews indicated that it might be a return to their earlier relevance and importance, I knew I had to check it out sooner than later.

Well, the record, "First Impressions of Earth," came out today -- the first new record day I've participated in in awhile! -- and I'd pre-ordered a copy via iTunes for the sake of expedience. Having downloaded it and listening to it this evening, I'm pleased with the purchase -- it's not a bad record -- but I'm not surprised or delighted with it. Julian Casablancas's voice remains as plaintive and dully tortured, almost bored, and the intersecting guitars provide what might be the most interesting musical details over a mostly monotonous bed of bass and drums.

So, more of the same. Not overly divergent from their debut, five years ago. And while not boring, not dangerous. The music lacks edge, while it possesses elements of edge -- Casablancas's vocals as an example -- and there's never much feeling of risk or raucous disregard for control or restraint. Some songs tend in that direction -- "Juicebox" and the opening of "Vision of Division" are examples -- but there's little gambled, and little gained.

"Razorblade" reminds me of Barry Manilow's "Mandy," and the sleepy "Ask Me Anything" might be one of my favorite songs so far, even if it's one of the least edgy or raucous. "Electricityscape" made me smile, and I even appreciate the repetitive drum and bass propulsion. 11 songs in, and there's finally some gleeful cacophany! The ending of "15 Minutes" is awesome. More like that, please! The next song, "Ize of the World," also indicates what the band could be and proves a wonderful step after "15 Minutes." In fact, those two songs and "Evening Sun" really surprise. Either I'm warming to the band right at the end of the record, or they opted for a strong closer rather than a strong opener. The latter half of the album, I'll return to, for sure. A nice bump, set, and spike. The online album closes with two non-album songs, including the peppy "Hawaii," which I could do with more of.

Blogs on the record: via Technorati
Mainstream media weigh in: via Google News

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