he whirlwind around The Strokes seems to put off as many people as it attracts. Not since Oasis in 1994 has a band received so much attention from the music press for so little output. Finally the debut album has arrived and with it something substantial to judge them on.
Simply from the title and (U.K.) cover of the album it is obvious that The Strokes take themselves a lot less seriously than everyone else seems to. Their ironic sense of humour is just as evident in their songs. It might be unfair that when they sing lines like “strange feelings I love them so/WHY WON’T YOU WEAR YOUR NEW TRENCHCOAT?” in “Barely Legal” it is attributed to wit whereas when Feeder sing “we’ll get a house in Devon/drink cider from a lemon” it is attributed to, well, crapness but hey, it’s a crazy world, and when you listen to “Hard to Explain” later on the band help you realise this.
The popularity of The Strokes in the U.K. coincides with the arrival of a glut of angst-ridden British bands; I see these two facts as very closely related. It is certainly refreshing to hear twenty something men singing about things that affect twenty something men. Sex, alcohol and (whisper it in case Starsailor hear) having fun! However, as refreshing as this is, there is shallowness to the album that prevents it from ever being put into the “classic” category. The ability to write a pop song is evident; unfortunately, there are occasions on the album when you’re convinced they have written the same one at least twice. There are instances when a lyric will come to mind easily (always a good sign for a pop song) yet remembering which song it came from is an arduous process as it would fit into so many (always a bad sign for an album).
When The Strokes get it right though, they really get it right. “Someday” is a brilliant, uplifting pop anthem and the strongest moment on the record. It references The Smiths and The Byrds musically and lead singer Julian Casabalancas delivers his own brand of poetry over it in a wonderfully lazy manner.
On the U.S. version of the album “New York City Cops” was dropped after it was deemed inappropriate in the wake of 9/11. It is certainly a major loss, “When it Started” which replaced it sounds exactly like that, a plan-B. Perhaps the band can be excused for the workmanlike nature of this song as it was not intended to be an album release, however you cannot help but wonder if this is a reflection of things to come, it begs the question, are they a spent force? I truly hope not, the world needs bands like The Strokes just as much as it needs artists like Jeff Buckley and Radiohead. To write them off for one poor song, however, would be unfair and naïve.
If you are the kind of person who expects this to be one of the most important albums of all time then the chances are that you are the kind of person who will be saying, “I’ve always hated them” in around 18 months. However, if you approach this album for what it is, an uncomplicated and witty take on modern life then you’ll find it to be on the whole, very enjoyable.
Reviewed by: Jon Monks
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01