This list is taken from the End Of The Decade issue of NME magazine (on sale November 18th) where each album included is reviewed again from a 2009 perspective, alongside brand new interviews and a look back at the defining musical moments of the past 10 years.
Read the original NME review from 2007:
Let’s face it, Radiohead could have released the sound of Thom Yorke picking fluff out of his belly button (which they did actually sample and loop throughout the whole of ‘Amnesiac’, probably) and the world wouldn’t have noticed for several weeks, so intense was the media chatter surrounding their “new business model”.
Looking back with a couple of months’ hindsight, though, and we can see things in a clearer light. Firstly, “new business models” have nothing to do with rock’n’roll whatsoever. Secondly, giving their album away for free was hardly a risky move, considering they were cutting out so many middlemen (packaging, distribution, sellers’ fees, blah blah blah) and blagging a load of free publicity to boot. And thirdly, we’ve now had a chance to absorb the actual music contained within ‘In Rainbows’, which is truly amazing. Sure, their hardcore fanbase were always going to be won over by anything that sounded so paranoid, fragile and odd. But there was much more to ‘In Rainbows’ than simply business as unusual.
Sonically, it was staggering. The in-the-red bass guitars on ‘Bodysnatchers’ sounded like the twisted offspring of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’, convulsing through an ugly dance. ‘Nude’, meanwhile, had clear soul guitars underpinning its inherent eeriness. Elsewhere, Thom crooned “I don’t wanna be your friend/I just wanna be your lover” – a bold departure from the oblique ramblings of their previous three records.
Clearly, this was Radiohead reconnecting with their human sides – realising you could embrace pop melodies and proper instruments while still sounding like paranoid androids located somewhere around the outskirts of Venus. This was otherworldly music, alright. No wonder their peers couldn’t touch them.
9Original Pirate Material
Read the original NME review from 2002:
Their features may remain the same, but over the years the streets - the unfriendly thoroughfares which are the touchstone for 'authentic urban music' in Britain - have had many different voices.
In the 1980s, [a]Paul Weller[/a] sang about their burned out phone booths and ripped up concrete, while [a]Terry Hall[/a] and [a]The Specials[/a] made eerie serenades to their night-time threat. Twenty years later, we can witness their new sound. They sound a bit like the Phil Daniels bit in Blur's 'Parklife', only they've got a Birmingham accent.
And why not? As UK garage takes on more and more of the lifestyle accessories of the US hop-hop scene, Mike Skinner, the 21-year-old who's the man behind [a]The Streets[/a] represents a brilliant break with cliché. You won't find him sipping on Kristal, emerging from a limousine, and the 'haters' don't get a look in. His drink is lager, or brandy, he recorded most of this debut album in his mum's house, and his songs depict an often breadline existence. And as such, he's one of the most original British pop voices for years.
What we're dealing with here is an album that owes a lot to garage, but also quite a lot to the all-night garage, too. By turns dark, funny and heartbreaking, the songs on 'Original Pirate Material' are snapshots of ordinary life as a young midlands resident, set to innovative two-step production: tales of love, going out, being skint, getting drunk (there's a lot of this - sometimes it's a surprise Skinner has called himself [a]The Streets[/a] and not The Coach and Horses), and eating chips. It's Streets by name, and streets by nature, and it's great.
The single 'Has It Come To This?' may have given you the idea already, but there's an incredible strength of character to [a]The Streets[/a]. It's small wonder that Mike Skinner presently finds himself feeling the love of the people (the single reached number 18), but not of garage's more established crews - he sounds nothing like them, and he's making the isolation sound splendid.
There's the voice, of course, upfront in the mix as if this were a spoken-word record, but what it's saying is better still. The heartbreaking 'It's Too Late' is a musical highpoint and tearful updating of [a]The Specials[/a], but includes the line: [I]'We first met through a shared view/She loved me, and I did too'[/I]. Elsewhere there's the heavy hip-hop of 'Sharp Darts', and [a]The Specials[/a]-like 'Same Old Thing', casting an eye over the late night takeaway scene to further smash the urban mould. As he says on 'Let's Push Things Forward', [I]'this ain't your archetypal street sound'[/I], and it's an admirable mission statement.
Because the sound of the streets is too often like an episode of 'The Bill' - hard hitting and 'real', certainly but without any of the stupidity, joy and occasional moments of beauty that you'll find in here. As in records, as in life - you're simply much poorer if you never get a chance to experience it.
8Turn On The Bright Lights
Read the original NME review from 2002:
When it comes to comebacks, only Elvis can match The Dark. If 2001 saw American bands tapping local heritage from Detroit to NYC, this year a grey-skinned British past is being dragged back the light. Dark angel Anglophiles Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have already made the journey and now come the half-British, New York-based Interpol to draw the curtains, dim the lights and tear into the bunker-reserves of paranoia, lust and fear that fuel this intriguing debut.
Forget the New York state of mind: Interpol have crossed county lines into new, distinctly Mancunian territory. The electroclash '80s have no place here - except maybe as a party heard through a thin and depressing partition wall. The already inevitable Joy Division comparisons are obvious and unmistakable, airbourne in the ashen atmospherics, Paul Bank's earth-to-earth voice and guitars so chokingly dense they should have a clean air order slapped on them. Yet The Smiths also lurk in the rugged rhythms and the clinical vocal deadpan. [I]"This is the only version of my desertion that I will ever subscribe to"[/I] yelps Banks on the cryptic tickertape spool of 'PDA', which is Morrissey-rhyming of an almost comical order - while 'Say Hello To The Angels' takes a punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate and customises it into a streamlined motoring machine.
Admittedly, there are times when all the bomb-age portent makes you feel like wearing a 'nuclear power - nein danke' badge but they make it okay even when - as on 'Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down' - the gloom threatens to become gauche. It could be as warm and emotionally satisfying as a hug from a piece of industrial cutting machinery but Interpol temper this album with real atmospheric sadness: the guitar sunspots that flare through 'Untitled'; the echo and ache of 'Leif Erikson'; the way the magnificent 'NYC' brings on the dancing horses for a slow sad waltz through the city's sickness; the snap-shut metal box clang of 'Obstacle 1'.
Through all those years of bad irony and blank angst, The Dark's vital signs have kept strong. With 'Turn On The Bright Lights', Interpol interpret them perfectly for these new and exciting times.
Read the original NME review from 2004:
Pop quiz: what's the most popular song to play at a funeral? Jimmy Cliff's tearjerking 'Many Rivers To Cross'? Jeff Buckley's gut-wrenching 'Hallelujah'? Nina Simone's blubby 'Lilac Wine'? You'd think that your last act on this earth would be to choose a song that's a guaranteed pass into heaven. Sadly, though, none of these tunes even make the Top Ten. According to surveys, it's more likely that your funeral will be soundtracked by Magic FM classics like Elton John's 'Candle In The Wind', Tina Turner's 'The Best' and Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On'. The Number One choice of soundtrack for a send-off into the afterlife is Bette Midler's 'Wind Beneath My Wings' from the film Beaches.
In the making of 'Funeral', The Arcade Fire sat through an ungodly amount of Bette Midler. They earned their spot as the world's leading authority on death and music by attending nine funerals in the time leading up to the recording of their first proper album (the follow-up to 2003's Canada-only DIY self-titled release). Nine people had to die in order to make 'Funeral'. But it's far from a 'death album'; the end product is the most alive album about death you'll ever hear.
Doubtless you've already heard of them. One of NME's Faces Of '05, the internet buzz on The Arcade Fire has been non-stop since 'Funeral' was released in North America last year. One of the key bands at the heart of Montreal's resurgent rock'n'roll scene (along with The Dears and The Unicorns) The Arcade Fire are, at their heart, recently married couple, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne. But two people couldn't create the epic chaos at the heart of 'Funeral'. At their biggest, 15 more musicians are throwing everything from accordians to strings to glockenspiels to harps into the mix.
Nowhere is this sombre carnival more pronounced than on 'Wake Up'. Think Mickey Mouse's final procession down Main Street before his entombment in the Magic Kingdom: a gigantic slice of thundering orchestral pop, like The Polyphonic Spree dressed in black robes strapping up for sonic jihad. Hairs on the back of the listener's neck pricked, most bands would have felt that was enough. But for a band so dogged by death as The Arcade Fire there is another place - upwards. Just before the four-minute mark it suddenly goes all ridiculously Motown, slinking and jiving in the spirit of Martha & The Vandellas' 'Heatwave'.
'Wake Up''s closest contender for the heart of 'Funeral' is the epic 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)'. Driven by a Talking Heads stomp, Win Butler wails like Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donohue, while the track builds and builds until it can scream no more and sugar-sweet xylophones contrast starkly with Butler's remorse. "I went out into the night/I went out to pick a fight with anyone", he wails before his wife joins him to sing, touchingly, "And the power's out in the heart of man/Take it from your heart, put it in your hand.".
'Funeral' is tinged with these little moments of redemption, 'Rebellion (Lies)' nods to early Roxy Music and bursts at the seams with positivity. This is a song, after all, whose chorus runs "Here's the sun it's alright!/Here's the moon it's alright!".
But while joy is never more than seconds away, death isn't far from Butler's and Chassagne's thoughts either. From album opener 'Neighborhood #1', Win's "parents are crying" and he can't name his children after his dead relatives because he's forgotten their names ("THE NAMES WE USED TO KNOW!" he wails).
The biggest choker comes when Chassagne virtually weeps, "My family tree's losing all its leaves". Elsewhere, there are black clouds thundering over'Crown Of Love' (Butler: "I carved your name across my eyelids/You pray for rain, I pray for blindness".) But in the same sweep Butler breaks out the love lyrics, seemingly stolen straight from a Nick Cave Valentine's greeting. "My love keeps growing", he swoons, " still the same, just like a cancer".
It's bleak. But 'Funeral' is an album that will do more than capture your heart. It'll bind you up and kidnap you. It will overwhelm with its energy and bombast, put you through the full emotional mangle. For those of us who still believe in music's power to redeem, 'Funeral' feels like detox, the most cathartic album of the year. Believe the hype, because if 'Funeral' doesn't touch you then strike up the Bette Midler. Because frankly, your ass is aready dead.
6Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
Read the original NME review from 2000:
Yeah, there are tight leather-wrapped symbolist poets sat on the roof by the water tank all night, watching junkies and rent boys and the boys are always called Johnny and fucked-up flotsam and jetsam go by. It's a place of 24-hour noise, of re-invented realities, where punk rock intellectuals sleep in the gutters and dream of horses galloping far, far away.
But enough of Poole. PJ Harvey's sixth album purports to be a collection of songs drawn from experiences in various cities, and from her hermetic life on the English coast. In fact, from the opening chimes of 'Big Exit', the nervy guitars of Television recaptured, 'Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea' is a traditional New York record, both in texture and imagery. "Speak to me of heroin and speed/Of genocide and suicide/Of syphilis and greed", she urges in 'The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore', and you get the impression we sure aren't in Dorset.
More pertinently, 'Stories...' is PJ Harvey's best album since 1991's 'Dry', a return to the feral intensity of that remarkable debut. For while it's a cliche; any frank woman singer-songwriter is 'disturbed' in some way, there's no avoiding the fact Harvey's last album, 'Is This Desire?', was unhappy; painfully-constructed third-person narratives buffeted by electro-industrial static.
'Stories...', however, is suffused with vitality. The clarity of the electric guitars played by Harvey, Rob Ellis and Mick Harvey is enough to make you fall in love with elemental rock all over again. When Thom Yorke adds his blustery yowl to 'This Mess We're In', you wonder if it was the realisation he'd never write something as stark that prompted the itchy ambience of 'Kid A'.
Harvey's delighted at getting Yorke to sing, "Night and day I dream of making love to you now baby", too. More than ever - check the snarling 'Good Fortune' and 'You Said Something' - she's indebted to Patti Smith. Here, Harvey's adopted her mentor's positivity, so that the urban vignettes are filled with a lust for life. If the roar of 'This Is Love' represents the album's sexual climax, the still moment in 'One Line' where she sings, "And I draw a line to your heart today, to your heart from mine/One line to keep us safe", is its brilliant emotional fulcrum.
You could quibble Harvey has absolved her responsibilities by making an album earthed in the New York sound of 20 or 30 years ago. But when rock is so invigorating, so joyous about love, sex and living, all arguments are null and void. Hey, take a walk on her wild side.
5Fever To Tell
Read the original NME review from 2003:
Things move fast in the world of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When they first arrived in Britain a year ago, it seemed likely they'd make a debut album fixated on the simple art of fucking. Instead, 'Fever To Tell' is more complicated: seeking to explain love, sex and the remarkable, brittle, sometimes disturbing connections between the two. In 37 minutes.
Love and sex are hardly radical new territory for rock'n'roll. But it's the candour and energy which Karen O brings to them which is so compelling. When she's excited, she loses control of language and resorts to a kind of ecstatic yelping. When she wants to explain the power of her emotions, cliches are no hindrance to honesty. The last words on 'Fever To Tell' are "And cool kids, they belong together."
Here, unusually, is a New York art-rock band with a dazzling lack of artifice. Karen O's attachment to the truth is both striking and touching. She isn't always entirely trustworthy - 'Cold Night', in which she sings, "Yeah we could do it to each other/ Well like a sister and a brother," has enough of a quasi-incestuous plot to make The White Stripes blush.
But for the most part, it's her bluntness which dominates. "Baby I'm afraid of a lot of things/ But I ain't afraid of loving you," she mumbles, as if buried beneath a duvet, on the hidden track, 'Porcelain'. "They don't love you like I love you," she repeatedly asserts on 'Maps', an anthem to bring out the romantic in even the most self-conscious sleaze-monkey. The presence of Angus Andrew, beloved of Karen O and Liars frontman, hovers behind everything on 'Fever To Tell'. Rarely has so much lust and affection been so explicitly directed towards one skinny artpunk frame.
Of course, these grand gestures of desire would only be of passing interest if 'Fever To Tell' was a lame album. Fears about how the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' songs might survive the transition from brash and rapacious live show to CD prove groundless. But the decision to include no songs from their first EP has always looked at best cavalier, at worst borderline lunatic.
'Fever To Tell' would be fractionally better with the addition of 'Bang' and 'Our Time'. But the good news is that, as debut albums go, it's terrific. Half the album passes in a breathtaking spurt before you can even try to grasp it. From the high-frequency opening riff of 'Rich' to the fuzzy hump of 'Cold Light', Nick Zinner and Brian Chase track Karen O's moods with often freakish empathy. It's a stark, uncluttered album, with plenty of room for those pinballing guitar lines and weird rhythm clusters. As the formidable opening salvo passes, 'Fever To Tell' becomes more reflective and nervous. Karen grapples with the joys and hazards of proper love, and the band respond with unusual sensitivity. 'Modern Romance' and 'Maps' are far from blousy ballads - there are still too many clangs and edges. Nevertheless, they're reassuring proof of a musical depth to match Karen's expanding emotional range.
Not exactly the fuck-and-run job they initially promised, then. 'Fever To Tell' reveals the Yeah Yeah Yeahs mixing up the cheap thrills with a grander plan: to build something substantial and special that'll last long after hormonal new wave has drifted out of fashion again. Let's hope it works out beautifully for all of us.
4Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Read the original NME review from 2006:
It’s hardly surprising that the first words to tumble out of Alex Turner’s mouth on this record are “Anticipation has a habit to set you up/For disappointment”. I mean, can you imagine how it feels to be in Arctic Monkeys right now? Great, obviously, seeing as they’ve filled the gutter-rock gap left behind by the imploding Libertines, gatecrashed the proper pop charts with their debut single and been declared Our Generation’s Most Important Band™. But you’ve kinda got to feel for them. They’ve only released one proper single and the world awaits excitedly for the greatest album since God plugged in his Fender and started jamming with Joe Strummer. What’s more, these boys have got an instant handicap. Loads of us have already heard half these tracks from the internet demos which helped build their fanbase. The tidier production here fails to add any more life to those snarling versions (although any more life and they’d have escaped from the case and gone joyriding around Shire Green).
But that’s enough doom-mongering. After a while the hype and expectation is going to fade away and, when it does, all you can really judge Arctic Monkeys on is their haircuts. Sorry, I meant their music. And even if you’ve been fortunate enough to live with these tracks over the last year or so, they still sound more vital, more likely to make you form your own band than anything else out there.
Essentially this is a stripped-down, punk rock record with every touchstone of Great British Music covered: The Britishness of The Kinks, the melodic nous of The Beatles, the sneer of Sex Pistols, the wit of The Smiths, the groove of The Stone Roses, the anthems of Oasis, the clatter of The Libertines…
Of course, the Monkeys actually spent their teens listening to hip-hop. But where that really shows is in the lyrics and the frenetic pace at which Alex hurls them out of his gob. He’s a master of observation. Unlike, say, Morrissey or Jarvis, he doesn’t use his eye-spying skills to strike a blow for the freaks and misfits of this world. And that’s exactly why they work so well. They’re songs for everyone – from the shy romantic whose hopeless with the opposite sex, to the guy who’d still take you home, even though he “can’t see through your fake tan” (‘Still Take You Home’).
What Turner does have in common with Mozza and Jarvis is that he’s a funny little fucker. And his humour is so easy to identify with, that mere observation serves him more than adequately. Forget the flowery fantasies conjured up by Dickensian Doherty – these are tales of the scum-ridden streets as they are in 2006, not 1906.
So you get the tongue-tied tart in ‘Dancing Shoes’, the bored band-watcher in ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ and the guy whose girl’s got the hump in ‘Mardy Bum’ – all sung with a voice so authentic it could land the lead role in the Hovis ads. This record’s heart lies in Yorkshire, and it’s usually down the local Ritzy disco, getting the cold shoulder off the bird it fancies and ending up in a scrap by the taxi rank outside. It couldn’t be any more Saturday night unless it woke up, bleary-eyed, next to a 16-stone munter with herpes.
The knock-out punch is saved for the finale, though. And when it comes, it smacks you three times. Just to make sure, like. ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ is the sound of the streets long after the Ritzy has kicked out for the night, ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ is a three-minute blast that dares to take on that most grotesque of creatures (nightclub bouncers, not Kerry Katona). The clincher, though, is ‘A Certain Romance’. As perfect a pop song as you could ever hope to hear, it rivals even The Streets in its portrayal of small-town England, a place where “there’s only music so that there’s new ringtones”. Alex’s message is compact yet delivered with dazzling poetic flair: “All of that’s what the point is not/The point’s that there ain’t no romance around here”.
By the time it finishes, you don’t feel sorry for Arctic Monkeys any more. They might have been swamped in more hype than Shayne Ward ballroom-dancing across the set of I’m A Celebrity… but all of that’s what the point is not. The point’s that there ain’t no disappointment around here.
Read the original NME review from 2000:
Meet the new year, same as the old year. Radicalism doesn't pay, complacency's at an all-time high, so keep your head down, smile for the cameras, mind your language and stick to the Third Way. The music scene's not so hot, either. That we could do with a fully plugged-in, turned-on, fucked-off Primal Scream at this point is hardly front-page news; for 'Exterminator' to pulverise the senses with quite such righteous, incendiary beauty most definitely is.
Nineteen-ninety-seven's 'Vanishing Point' was an impressive but predominantly bleak renaissance. More pertinently, Bobby Gillespie didn't appear to be on half of it, a serious problem considering the man is both Primal Scream's inspirational divining rod and public conscience. But his agitated spirit pervades 'Exterminator' and percolates throughout the record's ferocious assimilation of a host of customised Scream modes: chemical funk, free-jazz skronk, cosmic rock, molten noise. If it had a colour, 'Exterminator' would be blinding white, the colour of detonation and redemption and, above all, purity. "I'm going down to the underground", sings Bobby on 'Keep Your Dreams', the album's keystone and a hymnal stab of hope amidst the vitriol, "as deep as I can go".
It's time, they're saying, to take sides. Opener 'Kill All Hippies' lays bare the dichotomy "You got the money, I got the soul" before 'Accelerator' wastes the opposition in the heat of Kevin Shields' scorched guitar policy and Gillespie's ecstatic exhortation to "Come on! Come on!". This infernal marriage of The Stooges and a just-launched Intercontinental Ballistic Missile suggests Shields has been pivotal in the Scream, pushing themselves ever further towards the extremities of sound. The title track, meanwhile, is a marvellously insistent loping groover, rife with hysterical synth blasts and Gillespie's alliterative spiel: "Septicaemic interzone/Psychic distortion/ Satellite sickness/TV junk... No civil disobedience".
The notion that our lives are orchestrated by a global capitalist cartel won't ruffle the denizens of yer local Marxist bookshop, but in the realm of contemporary pop music a song like 'Swastika Eyes' is a devastating deviation from the conformist norm. Why The Chemical Brothers' mix was released as a single over the pulsating mayhem of Jagz Kooner's version remains a mystery but at least the latter is afforded its rightful prominence here, highlighting among other things the propulsive bass genius of Gary Mounfield and Bobby G's fondness for the word 'syphilitic', which duly appears on two further tracks: 'Pills', a queasy bathroom-mirror rant (key refrain: "Fuck, fuck/Sick/Fuck, fuck/Sick/Fuck...") and the aforementioned 'Keep Your Dreams', where the sorrowful swirl of Joy Division's 'Decades' receives a narcotic makeover.
Indeed, for all the celebrated outside input aside from Shields, whose stunning 'MBV Arkestra' mix of 'If They Move Kill 'Em' makes a not unwelcome reappearance, there are contributions from David Holmes and The Automator, plus thank you's to Liam Howlett and Can's Jaki Liebezeit none is more telling than Bernard Sumner's unmistakable guitar on the closing 'Shoot Speed Kill Light', a euphoric flight away from the preceding madness and, by implication, towards a better place.
You might consider it a shocking indictment of our times that the angriest, least compromised, most utterly justified pop record in years has been made by a group of people nearing the age of 40. And you might be right. But you simply can't deny the deranged majesty of Primal Scream and their 'Exterminator'. It's war you can dance to.
2Up The Bracket
Read the original NME review from 2002:
It hasn't passed without comment that the front-running bands at the moment hail from almost everywhere except Britain. No new homegrown band can yet hold a candle to [a]The Strokes[/a] or [a]The Vines[/a] - and when Sweden and bloody New Zealand begin out-rocking the UK, you know that things are getting bad. Forget UK garage; we want, well, UK garage - bands with a tiger in their tank and a ready quip on their lips, who can out-dress, out-class and out-drink Johnny Foreigner and won't rest until they've buccaneered from Land's End to John O'Groats. [a]The Libertines[/a]: your country needs you!
And after ten months morphing from The London Strokes to their current, eccentric incarnation, [a]The Libertines[/a] have released their debut album. Mysteriously omitting 'What A Waster', it's the sound of hot iron being struck, hay made while the sun shines and opportunity knocking, being grabbed by the scruff of the neck and shagged there and then on the doormat. It's ragged, inconsistent, and, in places, barely finished (it was produced, apparently live, by [a]The Clash[/a]'s Mick Jones). The awful acoustic ballad, 'Radio America', falls apart before your very ears.
But when it comes to vim (as in vigour and also the cleaning product they probably snort when all else fails), The Libertines have what it takes. Boundlessly curious and energetic, the best parts of 'Up The Bracket' come across like William Blake meets [a]The Jam[/a] round the back of King's Cross station. 'Horrorshow', basically a speeded up version of [a]Elvis Presley[/a]'s 'His Latest Flame', makes chronic heroin addiction sound distinctly jolly. 'The Boys In The Band' doesn't just pile on the sleaze, it crucially also turns on the charm. 'I Get Along' features the best swearing (a throwaway 'Fuck 'em') in pop this year. And 'The Good Old Days' is a nicely-timed reminder to jaded fools everywhere that 'If you've lost your faith in love and music the end won't be long'. See, [a]The Libertines[/a] even do wise.
This isn't the record to smite [a]The Vines[/a] and [a]The Strokes[/a] with the sword of Albion - it's too disorganised and chaotic for that. But if [a]The Libertines[/a] can keep writing songs as insolently catchy as the title track and the Smiths-style 'Time For Heroes', their finest hour will be upon us soon. Still, this is more than adequate for now.
God save the 'Tines!
1Is This It
Read the original NME review from 2001:
It's the best kind of New York story. One which mixes impossible glamour with brief excursions to the wild side. Which starts in a basement, and ends in huge acclaim. Which features good-looking participants in a potentially dirty business. A story too good to be true to be the real thing, surely? Like the title seems to ask - is this really it? Oh, it is. If 'it' is 11 songs and 37 minutes of concise and elegant rock music by five young men. If 'it' is a truly great statement of intent, one of the all-too-infrequent calls to arms that guitar music can provide, one of the best and most characterful debut albums of the last 20 years. If 'it' is touching, soulful, funny, tuneful and well-written songs played by people in great clothing, then yes, it is. It is 'it'.
Simply put, [a]Strokes[/a] have every quality rock'n'roll requires from its finest exponents and 'Is This It' is where they come together. Some are obvious: the drawling narratives of singer Julian Casablancas, the clanging of Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi's guitars, the uncomplicated recording, bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti joyfully getting on with the business of making music. More than that, though (and like, say, 'Definitely Maybe' by [a]Oasis[/a] before it), 'Is This It' is a document of a group seizing a moment and making it entirely their own. Like any indispensable invention, you're forced to wonder how you got by without it. This album is filled with examples of [a]Strokes[/a]' indispensability. That these songs for the most part represent material that the band have played since their inception tells you a lot about its quality: the band were inspired from the beginning, and that spontaneity has been captured.
It's a mood that is the backbone to the songs, too - they represent an account of life (their lives, anyone's lives) as hectic and full of incident as their own career. If there's a theme, then it's of inarticulacy ("I say the right thing/But act the wrong way", in 'Hard To Explain', is one lyric that sets the tone), but the songs themselves are perfectly articulate. They're in the right time, in the right place, and they provide as many epiphanies as they're trying to describe.
There's nothing unnecessary here. 'Is This It' is an album by a band that knows its strengths, knows its collective mind. It doesn't sound like one songwriter and some other donkeys. The highest compliment you can pay this record is that it sounds like [a]Strokes[/a], sounds as good as that whole concept. It's a New York story, a Los Angeles story, a London story. Anyone and everyone's story.