REWIND - The Strokes' Is This It turns 15: JOE's tribute to the album that made rock music cool again
Is This It?
There's a particular image that comes to mind when you hear the word 'rockstar'. God love them, it's not Weezer or Limp Bizkit. It's not KoRn and it's not Slipknot. Actually, it's pretty much nothing that came out of the nineties.
See what I mean?
But it could have been. Rock music could have disfigured beyond all recognition by the purveyors of nü-metal (shudder), were it not for The Strokes.
Julian Casablancas and his beautiful band strutted imperiously onto the scene in July 2001, a time when the archetypal rockstar was starting to look an awful lot like Fred Durst in a backwards turned baseball cap.
Is This It, for 36-and-a-half infinitely replayable minutes, reminded us all exactly what rock and roll was about. Frenetically, fuzzily energetic guitars and a singer whose roars are even delivered with a superior boredom. Catchy riffs in between lyrics that could only have been written by someone who knows what it's like to be cool in New York City.
Never has a band needed so much substance to match their unimpeachable style, and on Is This It met their hype head on and rode it into a Manhattan sunset.
We've somehow managed to rank our five favourite tracks from the album.
5) Is This It
Casablancas' opens the album by asking "Can't you see I'm trying? I don't even like it...", with a reluctant laziness that couldn't be a more fitting introduction to the singer who quickly whose perma-mumble vocals stay restrained until just the right time on every track.
Is This It is a short song that features a softly-played guitar and bass riffs over straightforward drums. Possibly the one song on the album that you wouldn't dance too, and possibly the only song ever recorded that will effectively help you deal with the distress of waking up a 7am for work on a Monday.
Much of The Strokes' appeal is grounded in their untouchably cool aesthetic. Rich New-Yorkers with wardrobes of clothes we couldn't afford (even though they looked like they hadn't been washed in weeks).
Someday offered a bit of a break from the incessant sense of superiority that surrounded The Strokes. It's a song about exes, looking back to a better time, not tinged with sentimentality so much as soaked in it.
Again, The Strokes display their early-affinity chirpy guitar riff and vocal melodies are quick to take up brain-space, creating a catchy tune that's as unshakeable as it is honestly bittersweet.
3) Hard To Explain
The Strokes' guitarists Nick Valensia and Albert Hammond Jnr. had an awful lot to do with the incredible success of Is This It. Hard To Explain exemplifies the effect that the two master craftsmen had on the album.
The tracks kicks into action with Fabrizio Moretti's surgically precise percussion pounding for a few seconds before Valensi launches into a riff that, while no more than slight variation on Julian's vocal melody in the verse, gives a great shape to the song - adding more detail once the vocals start, allowing the riff to climb as Julian's vocals descend the scale.
Another contagiously catchy chorus is rushed through by Casablancas towards the songs' spoken conclusion, containing a few little lyrical gems such as 'Oh man, can't you see? I'm nervous so please pretend to be nice so I can be mean.'
2) The Modern Age
The second track of the album, The Modern Age is the track that tells us everything we need to know about The Strokes. Julian's vocals go from serene to sharply dismissive and back again in the space of a few seconds while the guitars beneath his rambling are fuzzy and pleasing.
Moretti drumming again overs great solidity beneath the erratic vocals and wild solo-ing by Nick Valenis, holding together a song that was nothing short of an announcement that the next big rock band were here.
1) Trying Your Luck
Trying Your Luck might not be everybody's choice for the best song on Is This It. Valensi's opening riff fades in, giving the feeling that we've entered an atmosphere where this song is already playing. It's easy to become immersed in the track from there in.
Casablancas' vocals, sounding typically as though they've been recorded off the radio and laid down atop Velvet Underground jam session, are alluring for as long as they need to be. That is until the songs builds to its crescendo and the singer finally gives you the pay off. Straining his vocal chords just as Valensi launches into the gnarliest guitar solo of the album.