This week fans and musos alike have been celebrating 10 years since the release of Is This It, THE album that started the following years of copycat bands an indie drudge. As I write this its Saturday morning, and unconventionally I’m celebrating the albums birthday by not listening to it. No, I’ve gone down the Albert Hammond Jr route right now, but I’m starting to head off topic here.
Is This It may have started the new rock revolution, and been praised to high heaven, but just look at what we’ve endured since. Not just the band’s very own hit and miss back catalogue and turbulent solo releases, but we’ve also got a music scene awash with clones lacking in discernible talent. In 10 years, the album has become overly saturated, for example head to any indie establishment and you’ll get a fair few tracks form their library or read an interview with a band and 9 times out of 10 you are very likely to get a reference to The Strokes as an influence.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. You have to applaud the band for longevity (though perhaps it should be noted that things are starting to fall apart now) given some of the material they’ve released. Is This It still stands as the highlight of their career, ask anyone to name a Strokes song and Last Nite will inevitably be one of the first mentioned, but since it’s release they’ve done nothing to live up to the incredibly high bar they set with that album.
But getting to the album itself. Titular track and opener Is This It, eases the listener in with it’s gentle mix of angular guitars and Casablancas’ somewhat aggressive vocals, sending you straight into second track The Modern Age, which in my opinion has to be one of The Strokes best tracks, period. When you get to Soma, it does feel like you’ve heard all of this before (and I have a fair few times) but do you know what? It may be same-y, but it’s bloody better than anything else that was around at the time. This is another one of those albums where I remember my Dad bringing it home on the day of release and forcing me to listen to it (the 10 year old part of me rebelled against liking anything my parents did, a case further proven when similar events occured at the release of the second Libertine album. What can I say? My Dad’s pretty cool).
Moving on to Barely Legal, we see the New York punk attitude showing through. Yes the angular guitars are still very much there, and very crucial to the band’s sound, but Casablancas sings (I use that term very loosely here) with such a F U attitude that you have to stop and take notice. When Someday begins. we’re presented with an almost proper bonafide pop song. All with the some fantastic, albeit barely believable lyrics, ie. “I’m working so I won’t have to try so hard”. Alone Together continues very much to along the vein of the former half of the album, but I’m not arguing, they’re a band who know what works for them and stick very much to it (sadly we can’t say the same for their most recent efforts).
And then it starts. The one everyone knows. Last Nite is like a bomb waiting to detonate. When that ever so familiar guitar riff kicks in you have to wonder whether the band themselves knew how huge this song was. And everyone knows the words any time its played (similarly to the Mr Brightside effect in clubs too). And not forgetting that signature guitar solo, its a song that is so beautifully simple, but managed to capture the hearts of a generation. Hard To Explain is another one of those, with a drumbeat so precise and dedicated it’s hard to imagine it done by anything other than a machine, but that’s the skills of Fab Moretti. When It Started highlights the venom that Casablancas can sing with, and downright aggression spread across the instruments, and the fantastic clash when it switches to the fantastically singable refrain of ‘New York City Cops’.
Trying Your Luck is another extremely angular, and art-rock perhaps, number that floods in to final track Take It Or Leave It perfectly. Similarly anthemic, Take It Or Leave it features yet more brilliant guitar work and vocals that make me wish Julian wasn’t married. This collection of 11 songs songs kick started a whole generation, made boys want to pick up guitars and start bands,opening up the floodgates for a whole wave of copycat bands. And while not every band of the movement bothered the charts as much as the big hitters, we can at least say the major radio stations were a lot more bearable back then (long live 6music!)
And to celebrate the brilliance of this album, a free download is available of a cover version of this album (a bit like Mark Ronson’s versions, but better.) Featuring artists such as Peter, Bjorn and John, Frankie Rose and Owen Pallet it’s surely not to be missed. To download it head here, and you can even check out each artists liner note on what the song and The Strokes mean to them.
Oh and if you are one of those very lucky people that will be watching the band at Reading festival, 10 years to the very day that Is This It was released in the UK, I hate you. (I kid, but I am very jealous, I’ve still never seen The Strokes live). And to finish I’m going to leave you with perhaps my favourite thing to come out of the album.