The Strokes : Is This It

All you've heard is true. One of the best debut LPs by a guitar band in 20 years

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.

John Robinson

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