Is This It?

(Originally written for Electric Magazine)

In the ten years since Is This It, have The Strokes grown up at all?

Ten years is a long time. A very long time. In the time between Angles and Is This It, fans have had to endure disappointment and at times disillusionment from America’s ‘biggest indie band’. And guess what? There’s probably plenty more to come.

In those ten years we’ve had two good albums, one not so good album and Angles (more on that later). If we factor in two solo albums from Albert Hammond Jr, one from Julian, Nickolai’s band Nickel Eye and Fabrizio’s Little Joy, ten years may be a long time, but that is a pretty reasonable output. But let’s start at the beginning of this very long tale.

When Last Nite hit the nations stereos, it was most definitely needed. We lived in a era of skate punk with the arrival of bands such as Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, a respite was desperately needed. And thankfully it came in the form of New York hipsters The Strokes. Is This It was an album full of sharp guitars, insightful lyrics and more importantly, it was something you could dance to. Even to this day, if you go to any self-professed indie club night across the country, at least one track from The Strokes back catalogue will be heard at one point.

The stampede for the band, and that album, led to a resurrection of the British guitar band in its most honest form. For the first time since Britpop there was the idea that anyone could make it, no matter where you came from. Arguably this belief has led to a great deal of rubbish on the radio, but brilliant bands like The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand managed to succeed amongst established pop acts.

The band’s second album Room On Fire is a difficult topic. Rush recorded to capitalise on the guitar resurgence and the band’s popularity, it’s not one of their finer moments. Granted there are some fantastic songs on the album, especially Reptilia and 12:51, but it was all a bit indie-by-numbers.  The wait between Room On Fire and First Impressions Of Earth was a godsend really. It allowed the British public to really get the chance to look at what we were producing ourselves and back the good ones, not just any skinny boy with a guitar.

And with First Impressions came another assault on the public, this time a Top Of The Pops special for the band. This I remember very clearly, as it was around the time I was really into The Strokes and to be able to watch them on TOTP seemed a bit surreal. I doubt if it was still around today we would see a Beady Eye special or a Vaccines special, but that’s another debate. This album took the band back to familiar territory, with the angular, spiked guitars and Julian’s trademark snarl bringing back memories of how good the band were way back when.

And lo and behold another 5 years later, we have Angles. Under Cover Of Darkness was the perfect first track for the fans to hear, seemingly a Last Nite for 2011. It’s already clocked up a massive 315 plays on my iTunes and sits proudly at the tops of my most played list. But sadly my wishes that Angles would be at least slightly influenced by the wide array of solo offerings, from Albert’s wonderful California tinged indie-pop to urm Julian’s Christmas effort (that shamefully I listen to all year round), were not fulfilled. Lest we forget Nickel Eye and Little Joy. But starting with Albert.

Yours To Keep was one of my favourite albums from 2006. It was the soundtrack to a summer where I got my first festival experience and truly appreciated good music. The jingle-jangle indie of 101 gave it an immediate place in my heart, where it still sits to this very day, brought out when I’m in need of some sunshine. But 2008’s ¿Como Te Lama? just didn’t bother me. Whether it was because I was fed up with waiting for a new album from the Strokes or otherwise, it didn’t have the draw that Yours To Keep did. Maybe that was a sign for the band to regroup and get their act together.

Sadly not though, we were subjected to yet more solo torture. Phrazes For The Young, while a decent enough album, it felt as though Julian’s heart was not in it. The only songs that I fell in love with (or came close to falling in love with anyway) were 11th Dimension, and his Christmas song, I Wish It Was Christmas Today, on my iPod all year round, pssh this Christmas lark. Moving on from Julian, I have to admit that neither Little Joy nor Nickel Eye bothered me. And that’s coming from a girl who names Fabrizio Moretti as her favourite Stroke.

And now Angles comes in. Anyone who know me will know that I adore The Strokes. While other teen girls have Edward Cullen and JLS on their walls, I have Julian, Albert, Nick, Nikolai and Fab. And this is why Angles broke my heart. A ghost of the sounds of Is This It, as a whole it’s an album that just sounds bored. And if we watch any clips of the band recently, they look bored of each other too. It’s exactly what we expect from the band, its bland, repetitive and instantly forgettable. Whilst Under Cover Of Darkness is a fantastic son, there is nothing else on the album that jumps out and grabs you like their earlier material. When I reviewed the album, there was a wave of disbelief that I, Strokes fan girl, gave the album a lowly 6.5 out of 10.

It seems all the years, riddled with drug problems, marriages and children, have weathered the band. Angles has had no tour to support it, leading many to question whether the band are in crisis, but with the festival assault they have planned this summer it’s almost forgivable. Their original audience has grown up, and maybe we need The Strokes to grow up to let us fall in love with them all over again.


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