20 Years On: The Strokes – Is This It

Applauded with universal critical acclaim upon its 2001 release, but how has The Strokes seminal album, Is This It, faired with the passing of two decades?

The Strokes’ Garage Rock revival spawned a multitude of copycats in its wake. However, the New Yorkers remain the forefathers – often emulated but never bettered. Their prominence paved the way for the likes of The Killers, Artic Monkeys, Frank Ferdinand, and The Libertines, and their legacy continues to inspire.

Perfectly styled scruffiness and a predilection for chain-smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, made The Strokes infinitely cool. Their pose was warranted, however, as their tunes had substance that surpassed their visual impression at a time when Nu Metal and Pop Punk ruled alternative music airwaves.

This would not be a review without first paying homage to the controversial album cover; a cover so controversial at the time, it was not released in the US. This cover will go down as one the best – instantly recognisable for its two disparate styles of sexiness and class, epitomising the style of The Strokes. With the passing of time, the album cover is perhaps less shocking than it was back in the day, but its recognition is instantaneous.

Every song on Is This It is worthwhile. One finds themselves forgetting the skip button – faded by endless subpar artists – even existed. The Stokes provided pleasing rock n roll with clean and chiming guitar tones, accessible to the uninitiated. Metronomic drums accompanied by downstrokes and staccato riffing, guide this album with vigour from start to finish.

Is This It, begins with an opener of the same name. Through the strain of Julian Casablanca’s husky vocals, this beautifully emotive track evokes a desperate sense of sadness and vulnerability in love. Balladesque, and perhaps not as upbeat an opener as one might expect the first track from a new band to be, the track just works – it’s a perfect introduction.  

Arguably, the highlight of the album is Someday. By the time the second chord resonates, the song is instantly identified. Fan or not, Someday is infectious and fun in equal measure. The verse is musically basic but all parts of the band operate like a well-oiled machine; no requirements for subsidiary features. The Chorus is what The Strokes do without sweating a bead – producing choruses that can be danced to and sung along to. One of the best – if not the best – from The Strokes.

Hard To Explain was The Strokes’ first hello to the world – what a hello it was. The album’s lead single was so different to anything being offered at the time, it could have come from a galaxy far, far away. The electronic drums and wailing downstrokes were smack-in-the-mouth new retro. The pulse of the lyrics was particularly interesting – moving intermittently between snail-slow words to meandering up-tempo lyrics.     

And then came Last Nite. By this point, following the release of Hard To Explain, The Strokes were gathering some serious momentum. Like Someday, Last Nite is recognisable immediately; however, where Someday is identified after the second chord, Last Nite is revealed by its first note. Save the juddering yet melodic guitar solo from Hammond Jr, this jam is classic rock at its most basic, but The Strokes do basic with aplomb. Last Nite will forever be enshrined to many as the day they were introduced to The Stokes – and what a day it was!  

New York City Cops was jibe at the band’s perceived incompetence of thier local police department. Lyrics aside, this number was a joyous effort, combing fragmented verses resolved by a satisfying anthemic chanting chorus. There is no room for improvement in this, and the scattering soloing perfectly augments an already perfect classic.

Nostalgia galore – both musically and aesthetically – but sounding as fresh today as it did twenty years ago. Is This It is truly one of the greatest albums of a generation.

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