How The Strokes ‘Is This It’ Changed Music For The Worse

Love ‘Is This It’? Here’s the opposing view: why it changed music for the better

If I had my way, every last copy of The Strokes’ ‘Is This It’ – or ‘It Is Shit’ as it’s known to anagram-creating crossword compilers – would be fired out of a canon, straight into the gaping, lava-spewing maw of Mount Doom. The albums would be followed closely by all the airborne – and soon to be incinerated – members of the band in case they were ever tempted to re-recorded their debut. (Though some would argue this is all they’ve done for the last decade anyway.)

The Strokes

The thing about good looking, rich, well connected, young white men is they don’t actually need to be in bands because money, sex, drugs, jobs and every single opportunity life has to offer will be handed to them on a silver plate regardless. They literally don’t need to prove that they’re good at anything in order to coast through life with the sun gleaming off their perfectly dentured grins. Their overwhelming sense of entitlement and our unbelievable need to fulfil it, ironically would go some way to explaining why the world dropped its collective draws, bent over and gripped its ankles on hearing this paper-thin slurry of Billy Idol, The Knack, mid-period Oasis and The Germs as dressed by H&M, when it was released in 2001.

They were Suicide without the death, The Velvet Underground without the S&M, Television without the chops. In short, they were the poster boys for a post Zero Tolerance, deoderised Manhattan; a ‘Friends’ compatible vision of a completely neutered and de-fanged Big Apple.

To be fair the album isn’t utterly appalling. The one song that manages to redeem itself fully is ‘Hard To Explain’ but even that would have struggled to make the final cut on Interpol’s far superior ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’ the following year. ‘Last Nite’ is pretty good as well but I liked it more when it was called ‘American Girl’ and recorded in 1977 by Tom Petty.

Of course history is littered with brilliant albums made by rich people but I can guarantee you that none of them are the work of the indolently navel gazing, clothes horse, fuck puppet sons of the already famous who wouldn’t know what the word ‘struggle’ meant unless their amanuensis looked it up for them in a fucking gold-plated dictionary.

The malign influence of this album was twofold. Firstly, in real terms, it opened up the floodgates for dead-eyed, style over substance, stadium indie groups, who leaned heavily on classic music from the canon but with all rough edges smoothed off to make it more palatable for mass consumption. (Hello The Killers, Kings Of Leon, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club etc.)

Secondly, in aesthetic terms, their legacy bequeathed to the UK indie scene over the following decade cannot be underestimated either. They set a blueprint for lager-sodden underachievement, unthinking narcosis and the actual music being relegated to tertiary importance behind identikit thrift store clothing and studied urban ennui with a side helping of downward mobility.

Regardless of what they sound like, we can thank The Strokes for the ‘will this do’ imbecility of Razorlight, The Others, Dirty Pretty Things and many more to boot. There were loads of great NYC bands we could have clasped to our collective bosom a decade ago including Liars, Les Savy Fav, Oneida or Black Dice instead of Little Lord Fauntleroy And The Overdrafts (just as there were loads of better albums in 2001 by the likes of The White Stripes, Jay-Z, Prefuse 73, Lightning Bolt, Missy Elliott, Fantomas and Roots Manuva).

It took LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Sound Of Silver’ in 2007 to restore the musical pride of New York, but this came too late for those living elsewhere who honestly believed all there was to being in a band was having a smart jacket, a load of cash, knowing three chords and acting bored. Is this it? If only it had been.

What’s the greatest Strokes track? Vote now

Gallery – The making of The Strokes’ ‘Is This It’

NME meets The Strokes in 2001 – archive feature.

Why I love The Strokes’ ‘Is This It’, by Alex Turner.

How The Strokes changed music for the better.