The Strokes - Is This It? (Cover Artwork)

The Strokes

Is This It? (2001)

Rough Trade / RCA

Sometimes a band is simply too good not to make it. The Strokes are one of this rare breed. This band is destined to be grasped by the mainstream, taken as their heroes, and hailed as the future of rock. And it will all start with this, their debut album, Is this it. It will be very popular. There's no bondage gear or mohawks in site. Indie kids will hail this as the second coming of Nirvana/Oasis/The Stone Roses, or whoever they're worshipping that week. And, without sounding anything like Rancid, The Clash or even the Ramones, and certainly without trying, it's punk as fuck. You'll probably say it isn't punk because it's popular. You'll say it's not punk because it's not fast enough. But deep down, you won't be able to deny how good it is. Like punk? You'll love it. Hate punk? You'll love it still. Put simply, Is this it? is the best album of the last five years, and probably even longer than that.

The hype the British music press put this release under, by the time of release, the built up expectations would have been near impossible to match. In the end, they weren't. They were exceeded. It sounds as good as they look, and stays with you a lot longer than those ripped jeans will. When this album hits the US, it will be like the year that punk broke all over again, except people won't realise it. They won't care if it's punk or not. They'll simply care that it's fucking good music, and become lost in the story of New York that is this album.

Within a few months, the story will be known by heart. Five New York kids form a band, in the vein of early 70's art rock, and the New York Punk scene it inspired. Julian Casablancas' the vocalist who very much wants to sound like Lou Reed, and somehow defies all logic by pulling it off. The two guitarists, Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. can't decide if they're The Velvet Underground, Television, The Stooges or performing Buddy Holly classics. Fab Moretti, who's been playing the drums since he's five, mixing the skill of someone with his experience, with the enthusiasm of someone who's never sat at a drum kit before. Nikolai Fraiture, the bass player who seems to be under the impression that he's playing with John Lennon, and somehow, by some bizarre twist of fate, managing to complete a sound that works. More than works, sounds amazing. Wearing their thrift store suits and ties, along with slashed jeans, they look like Dee Dee Ramone crossed with Tom Verlaine, and they sound every bit as good as either.

From the moment you put this album on, you KNOW it's going to be something special. But what do you expect from the band that Joe Strummer described as the first band to make him smile in years? More than anything else, this is a classic guitar rock album. It has many of the same influences as the first wave of New York punk bands (The Stooges, The Velvet Underground and the classic rock ‘n' roll of Buddy Holly) and it sounds as fresh now as they did then. This is an album that won't go away. Will people be listening to it in 20 years? How the fuck do I know? But they should. And the odds are, they will. It's not as combative as they often were (The Strokes declaration that "We aren't enemies / We just disagree…" is a far cry from the "fuck you" attitude of the Ramones or Dead Boys), but it's every bit as revolutionary.

The album opens with the rather low key title track "Is this it". You'll hate yourself for being punk and liking this, but you'll find it so difficult not to. Leading right into the faster, and equally brilliant "The Modern Age". Part of the original demo that sparked a flurry of excitement in those who heard it, and when you hear it, you'll understand why. Next up, "Soma". Another consistent and catchy track, which on any other album would be a stand out, or from any other band, would be lost amongst the better tracks. Here, it stays in the middle, neither the song you'll be singing in the shower, nor the track who's lyrics you can't recall when you go and see the band live (and after hearing this album, you will want to.). Following this, is "Barely Legal", which is to me the best track on the album. While lacking the catchy chorus of most classic songs, the entirety of the song is so wonderful, you'll not want it to end. Or you wouldn't, that is, if the next track "Someday" was not almost as brilliant. The next three tracks, "Alone, together", "Last nite" and "Hard to explain" form the solid core to a solid album. Hard to Explain was their first single, but that doesn't really matter, because any track on the album could easily be a single in itself. Ninth track is "New York City Cops". If you want a catchy chorus, you'll find it here. No weakness in sight, and we're at "Trying your luck". While perhaps not the track you'd play for your friends to get them hooked on this band, it'd still do the job, and do it very well. Finally, we have "Take it or leave it", another catchy chorus, another brilliant song. Just try and stop singing it. And then it's over. 37 minutes. 11 songs. Not a single weak cut. You'll want more, but it's so good that the songs don't become old. The repeat button will become your new best friend.

Call it punk, call it art-rock, call it guitar music, it doesn't matter. The Strokes sound wonderful, they look as good, and can carry it over live. Easily the best album of the year, from the best new band in a long, long time. I have seen the future of rock, and this is it. The future is bright. "Is this it"? Yes. It very much is so. Thank fucking god, rock isn't dead after all. Buy it and claim it as your own, before the MTV crowd do, because even they can't resist an album THIS good. But even when the smell of teen spirit wears off, we'll all know the truth. This is simply a fucking amazing album.