The Strokes

Is This It? (RCA)

Oct 17, 2001 at 4:00 am
Once every few years, a band arrives to "save" rock, to inject the music with a spoonful of amphetamine designed to slap ass and jerk neck. The critics, whose duties include anointing these saviors, get all sweaty for them, relieved to finally have something exciting to write about after so many years of simply enduring.

In the case of the Strokes, the savior hoo-ha comes in part from the NYC and London scribes who cut their teeth while catching Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Television and the Modern Lovers gigs at clubs in the mid-'70s or fell in love with the music after reading said NYC taste-cops. They love the Strokes, and it's only logical. Their sound is familiar, the musical equivalent of comfort food. Sweet NYC purity, lifeblood of the rock & roll heart, lives deep in the Strokes' sound: a clunky, raw rhythm section; a slightly askew, double-electric-guitar romp, replete with a fully intact melody; and a lead singer with pouty, oh-so-supple lips and a cigarette-stained voice who's less concerned with hitting the note than with rubbing gently against it.

It's so tempting to hate the Strokes. They're hot little thangs, they attended the best NYC prep schools and, though together only a year, they're one of the hottest rock bands in the world right now. Big in England. Lead review in Rolling Stone. Coiffed and hunky. What's not to hate? Purists, ugly and desperate themselves, prefer their rock stars ugly and desperate too so that when saviors arrive, fresh and artfully ruffled, seemingly perpetually poised to strut down a Prada runway, the bullshit detector rightfully goes off.

But, as much as it may hurt to say, Is This It? is indeed it. Full of frenzied guitar melodies that even Guided by Voices would kill for -- and that could probably kill Lou Reed at this point (by the way, will someone please kill Lou Reed?) -- the Strokes' debut, though entirely derivative of the music it seeks to honor, East Coast rock, is so sticky and strong that after one listen, at least three songs will be lodged in your noggin. Songs rock and roll -- no easy task, really -- especially the sweltering "Last Nite," which kicks off like Tom Petty's anthemic "American Girl" (and at least a dozen different Feelies songs) and nearly trounces the competition. Momentum built, "Hard to Explain" continues like a tantrum as singer Julian Casablancas bellows, "I say the right thing but act the wrong way!" as he plops down on the couch, exasperated, and grabs the remote: "I watch the TV, forget what I'm told/Well, I am too young, and they are too old." Is that a classic rock & roll lyric, or what? Simplistic? Sure. Been there, done that? Definitely. Woefully conservative? Yep. Rock & roll? You better fucking believe it.