2007, and Shia Lebouef is plastered all over the big screen, wearing a Strokes T-shirt (black; chrome logo) in Transformers. Like The Rolling Stones’ puckered red lips before them, its appearance in a Hollywood blockbuster seemed to acknowledge a truth that music kids had known for a while: Julian Casablancas and his pals had crossed over into the iconic. The Strokes had joined the canon of classic indie rock.
Seeing your icons become nostalgic faves may remain a strange pleasure, but you don’t get there without myth, and seminal 2001 debut ‘Is This It’ came into a world hungry for guitar bands to make the idea important again. Nu-metal’s offerings of generational icons had been ignored, while the years that preceded the New Yorkers’ entry can largely be summarised as the age of beige: David Gray, Travis, Coldplay, the list goes on. When five effortlessly cool young men kicked down the door, hailed by all as rescuing a supposedly comatose genre, they were gobbled up hungrily.
Listening back to ‘Is This It’, however, you can understand the hype: across 11 songs, the quintet concocted an arsenal that was economical, immediate and elegant, but volatile at the same time. Julian Casablancas remains a thrill to listen to, half-mumbling, half-roaring tales of disconnect and druggy abandon with a voice that earned him a place at the top table of NYC’s great frontmen. His drawled delivery made perfect sense over Gordon Raphael’s lo-fi production; many may have criticised the album as sounding under-produced at the time, but the near-live presentation feels intimate, like you’ve stumbled on a secret.
‘Last Nite’ and ‘Someday’ are fuzzy and anthemic, with the kind of romp-about riffs and pop sophistication that feels effortless. ‘Hard to Explain’ is insistent and sad, the singer twisting a mystery pathos out of the line “raised in Cah-ro-lai-nahhhh”. ‘Soma’ and ‘Alone, Together’, meanwhile, showcase the best of the band: guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., along with bassist (and secret weapon) Nikolai Fraiture, streamlining a proudly messy US indie tradition (Guided By Voices, The Replacements) into precise three-minute wonders.
Outside of New York, the amount of “what if?” scenarios are overwhelming: aside from opening the door for modern indie anthems to have crossover success, would we even have Arctic Monkeys, The Killers (who reportedly threw all their old material out after hearing the record), The Vaccines etc etc etc were it not for The Strokes’ debut? ‘Is This It’ may still be the bar that its five creators will forever be trying to match, but more than perhaps any other record of this century, it’s earned its place in rock history.
Released: 30 July 2001
Standout Tracks: ‘Last Nite’, ‘The Modern Age’, ‘New York City Cops’
Tell Your Mates: ‘Soma’ takes its name from a fictional drug in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. See, reading is cool, kids!
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