The Strokes were not one of those bands that gave me that magical moment where I heard them for the first time and thought ‘Oh my god where have you been all my life!’. In fact when I first heard snippets of the band on the radio I could take it or leave it (excuse The Strokes Pun). What really got me hooked however was hearing them live for the first time.
Let me take you back to the summer of 2001 when I was in my young care free days trying my best to look cool as I wondered around the sea of tents at Reading festival in the Royal County of Berkshire, England. The air was rife with reports of a new band from New York who had recently been creating a buzz on the shores of Britain, and that they were being upgraded from the small stage to the main stage. This was almost unheard of to happen so I thought I’d trundle along to see them (along with everyone else in the festival – hence the upgrade ) to see what all the fuss was about. And I can tell you I was not disappointed. Listening to them on stage was a breath of fresh air: the style, the swagger, the camaraderie, and most of all the music. It all came together for me within minutes of them performing and I could barely wait for the festival to finish so I could get my greasy little mitts on their debut album Is This It which was being released that very Monday.
The Strokes didn’t just look cool; everything about them created a shift in direction and brought guitar music in England back to its glory days after the stagnant leftover remnants of Britpop. Tight Jeans and shaggy hair, check. Drinking beer and smoking on stage, check. Making you want to drop everything you’re doing and join a band with your mates, check.
As soon as you slap on the album and first track Is This It kicks in, and you wonder where all the energy is, then you realise this album opener is just a gentle build up of what’s to come. With one of the greatest bass lines of the last 20 years and with front man Julian Casablanca’s garbled vocals lathered in distortion crooning over the top, the song is mesmerizing and blissful. This serenity is quickly broken by The Modern Age, a tale of chasing and avoiding the opposite sex backed up with crunching melodies and a wonderful solo produced by guitarist Nick Valensi. “In the sun, sun having fun it’s in my blood, don’t want you here right now let me go” sings Julian, showing off his youthful exuberance and obvious freedom of worries.
It’s a rare find when you have an album where there isn’t a bad, or even an average song, but this is one of those rare albums. Soma has a riff most bands would envy in its powerful simplicity, Someday is probably one of the best songs ever to remind you of the times you have with your buddies, and Hard To Explain is just a piece of New York flown right into your speakers.
There’s obvious influences of Lou Reed, Janes Addiction, and Ramones to name a few, but this is all cleverly entangled in a web of other influences into a sound that is unmistakably their own throughout the entire record. Take It or Leave It is the most punk song on there, with Julian screaming down the microphone “girls lie too much, and boys act too tough, enough is enough”, and you can almost feel the ego of the lead singer trying to bust his way into your head.
Is This It can’t be mentioned without stand out track Last Nite. The song became a summer anthem of a generation for its poppy appeal and downright audacity to drag anyone onto the dance floor whether they liked it or not. A special mention has also got to be reserved for New York City Cops; at the time this was not released on the American version of the album out of respect for 9/11 (the song mentioning New York City cops not being too smart) but is still up there as one of their best songs, which really sees the boys let go of everything and just have fun.
The album is seminal because it’s not just one of the best rock albums of all time, but also created a new sound for others to own, change and manipulate. As soon as The Strokes arrived, other great bands followed: The Vines, The White Stripes, The Hives, The Libertines – a scene was created. It released a new cycle of entertainment for the kids of the day in the ongoing Ferris wheel of fashionable music. What Is This it does best is create a sense of youth, freedom, friendship and togetherness from beginning to end. God bless The Strokes.