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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Categorized as Indie

Track Review: The Offspring – Let The Bad Times Roll

My partner is not a fan of my musical preferences. Although she is kind enough not to vocalise her distain, I can tell. However, once in a while, I’ll catch her humming along – or even singing – to one of my jams. The Offspring’s, Let The Bad Times Roll, is one of those numbers.

The track is damn catchy, but hey, The Offspring are the Archbishops of the catchy-tune church. Their hooks are so catchy, they always land whoppers, where other bands settle for minnows.

Let The Bad Times Roll uses an atypical approach to the common theme of rock music, opting for electric guitar in the verse, and acoustic in the chorus. On first listen, the back-to-front sound is a surprise and feels peculiar. After a few repeats, however, the choice makes as much sense as gravity.

“Hey Lincoln, how does your grave role?” is one of a number of thought-challenging retorts made in the song. Themes of desperation and societal discourse run strong through this number. The band drive home the message of the song with great vigour, whilst not bombarding the listener with political manifestos.

The Offspring have put out their fair share of howlers in the past decade but, Let The Bad Times Roll, ain’t one of them. This track is a winner, and will be a favourite with The Offspring’s offspring for years to come.

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Categorized as pop punk

Track Review: Angels & Airwaves – Euphoria

Love it or hate it, Tom Delonge loves to experiment with spacey-sounding synths; U2 and aliens appear to be the NASA fanatics’ biggest inspiration. Unfortunately, Euphoria embodies an alien sound to people who enjoy good music.

The imagery and cinematography of the band is irrefutably impressive, but the substance of a band lies in their ability to consistently release great music – Angels & Airwaves are consistency inconsistent in that respect. The delay pedal effect has been employed so readily by the band throughout their carer, they have become a caricature of themselves. The supplementary bells and whistles only add to further confuse what is already a confusing listen.

The Angels & Airwaves army will probably enjoy the new offering, however. In fairness, Delonge’s capacity to produce repetitive yet beguiling vocal hooks is steadfast in Euphoria. There’s also a strong riff running throughout the song but it is too quickly quashed by electronic murmurings, just when it should be upping the intensity.

Perhaps present fans will appreciate this number, but Euphoria will not endear strangers to the band, and acts as a poor example of their work to date.

5/10

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Categorized as pop punk

The future of live music? A stay-at-home mosh for your hard-earned dosh!

As is the case for many of us, Spotify is an active part of our day-to-day lives. Whilst trawling for new music on the streaming giant, I was met by an advertisement for a Black Keys live event, streaming next week. I was gripped by the idea of watching a great band play live from my sofa; that was until I saw the £15 price tag. Perhaps a reasonable fee given the acclaimed status of the band? A price so low, up-and-coming acts would likely scoff at playing for such pitiful fiscal return. However, spending 15 hundred of my pennies on a live gig viewed via screen – when I could easily find the artist’s best gig on YouTube – was a little too rich for my blood.  

The live music purists amongst us, will likely be nauseated by the idea of such futuristic ventures, blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for single-handedly destroying live music. Love it or hate, change happens and progress is made. There has never been a time in history where the world has shared such unilateral change than during the last year and a half, and for the active hard-touring bands, live-streaming shows at a cost, makes unsettling sense.    

If you want to see the freshest performances of the newest music, what easier way to access it than through live-streaming shows?! With that said, it certainly pisses on the strawberries of diehard fans who are willing to pay above the odds to be one of the first to see new songs performed in person. It does, however, open up bands to new fans, who would not have realised the talents of an artist had it not been through a swift introduction from social media or live-streaming services.

Will this change the future of live gigs? Possibly not. Will it have an impact on how well-established bands present themselves to the masses? Almost certainly, yes. There will be resentment along the way, but changes are inevitable. Pay-to-stream gigs have the potential to help bands turn a quick buck at very short notice, and allow legendary bands to continue to tour despite the blights of age.

We probably didn’t think our entire music catalogue would go on to be held entirely in a handheld device, yet here we are. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

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Categorized as Indie, rock

Track Review: Rise Against – The Numbers

Politically charged as always, Rise Against, tease this new single from their long-awaited LP, Nowhere Generation.

The first minute and a half of The Numbers is a scorcher. Opening with a razor-sharp riff of power chords then leading into a thunderous offbeat punk verse, the track appears to have legs. However, this is where the fun stops and those legs are amputated. Strangely, The band opt to reuse the opening riff for the chorus, and the outcome is clumsier than a drunk skateboarding toddler.

Lyrical themes of revolution and conformity are certainly nothing new for the band, but this effort really does shove it down your throat. Although not similar musically, Rage Against The Machine, provide palatable protest lyrics due to their more subliminal and sparse approach – Rise Against are so literal, it’s uneasy. A crazed street preacher could easily be spouting the same noise in a rundown high street.

Attempts at emulating their earlier hits of Satellite and Heroes of War are unsuccessful. This track is borderline self-indulgence. Sometimes a song can be overly political but the music stands it up, The Numbers is not one of them.

5/10

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Categorized as pop punk

20 years on: Blink 182 – Take Off Your Pants And Jacket

Twenty years has past and much has changed for Blink 182, yet much has remained the same. The San Diego natives steadily acknowledged they cannot remain luddites of the same dick-and-fart-joke routine, they were once the main proprietors of at turn of the millennium; however, their ear for catchy choruses and maintaining a cult-like following has remained unscathed.

The 2001 release of Take Of Your Pants And Jacket, was the crest of the wave in blink 182’s discography, with the album selling over 14 million copies worldwide. Following up from the band’s iconic 1999 album, Enema Of The State, Take Of Your Pants And Jacket is a quintessential pop punk classic, filled to the brim with angst, nursery rhyme riffs and power chords. The album forged an instant connection with the its-okay-not-to-be-okay kids of the time. For many people, this album will awaken floods of memories, and certainly take them back to simpler times of diminished responsibilities. The band were the Du Jour for skateboard-loving adolescent misfits.

The sound of the album was very much of its time in pop punk history; a sound that decayed only a few years later. However, Blink 182 were the biggest beneficiaries and flagship artist of the genre’s style. Although the sound of the album is a sound of days gone by, it does not feel dated and the production quality is high. The LP is more than listenable and somewhat endearing, albeit cringeworthy at times.

The songs on the album – at a basic level – can be categorised into three types of songs: angsty; love; and dumb-fuck stupid – thankfully, most fall into the former two categories. Album opener, Anthem Part Two, explored more mature themes than all previous Blink 182 album submissions. The angsty chorus – blaming parents for life’s misfortunes – is perfectly poised at Blink 182’s target demographic – teenagers. Although blaming parents for life’s woes is not a mature subject matter, per se, Blink 182’s delivery is powerful and believable. Had the same song appeared on a previous album, the lyrical content might have been less informed and more juvenile. Although the musicianship of Anthem Part Two is basic, it’s interesting and impactful enough to remain memorable.

Second single, First Date, is a divisive number. Love it or hate, it’s catchy; Tom DeLonge possesses this innate ability to create infectious choruses. Plus, almost any teenager can relate to the awkward subject matter of the unparalleled anxiety of going on a first date. In a similar vein, Story Of A Lonely Guy was a great track, with the band open-heartedly expressing their vulnerability in affairs of the heart.     

The Rock Show was the leading single on the album, and was a sensible choice. The coverage this track had on MTV2 and radio stations was ridiculous. The mastery of the song was its simplicity and relatability. Blink 182 have this clever knack of allowing the listener to, more-or-less, be completely familiar with the chorus after first listen. The Rock Show was no exception, and it’s a song that will instantly slap a smile on your face.   

Mid-way through the album sits Stay Together For The Kids, a track that is often cited as the point when Blink 182 ‘got serious’. Its scale-based opening riff and thunderous chorus compliment this number flawlessly, and works well to magnify the depressing lyrical content. The main riff conjures a sense of sadness, whereas the chorus elicits anger and opposition. Stay Together For the Kids is perhaps Blink 182’s angsty magnum opus, showcasing the vocal talent of Hoppus and Delonge.     

Towards the end of the album, Every Time I Look For You, will instantly remind fans of American Pie 2. Blink 182 offered songs to both the first and second American Pie releases. However, although a decent offering, it’s forgettable. Reckless Abandon was also another strong enough offering, but lacked the je ne sais quoi of radio-worthy pop punk.  There are certainly a few filler tracks on this album – think Roller Coaster – however, the strength of the album’s singles and several other gems, are enough to carry it. Also, most of the subpar tracks are circa three minutes in length, meaning that it isn’t long before the listener is rewarded with a more palatable audio reprieve. 

Take Off Your Pants And Jacket encapsulated enough of the immature Tomfoolery ethos of Enema Of The State to maintain momentum with current fans, but is peppered more mature themes, likely reflecting the maturity of the band, who were fast approaching their thirties. A band in their thirties can’t solely rely on juvenile toilet humour and euphemisms, right? Saying that, NOFX are in their mid-fifties now…

7/10

Skip to: Anthem Part Two (although, it is the first track)

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Categorized as pop punk

Track Review: Dropkick Murphys – Turn Up That Dial

The Bostonian barroom bad boys are back! Say what you want about the Dropkick Murphys, but what they do, they do well. The East Coast sextet evoke an essence of Irishness so strong, you can almost taste the Guinness.

From the Album of the same name, Turn Up That Dial is a shouty-yet-melodic number. The track is a corker and will be an instant fan hit, bearing resemblance to the infectious, The State Of Massachusetts. This one is quintessential Celtic punk!

Turn Up That Dial shows off the talent of each member of the band, differentiating them from other similar bands of mediocre musicians. The multi-instrumental talent of Jeff DaRosa offers less of an accompaniment to this punk scorcher, instead providing the driving force for the lullaby-sounding ditty.

If you’re a fan of the band, and wanting much of the same, you’re sorted. Great craic!

7/10

Track Review: Dinosaur Jr – I Expect It Always

J Mascis’ guitar tone should be trademarked for its instantly recognisable and unrefined rough edges. If his sound was in a police line-up, the cops would get their man every time.

I Expect It Always is by no means an evolution – like the rest of new album Sweep It Into Space – but Dinosaur Jr have already evolved into Homo sapiens of their craft. The track is a predictable, up-tempo adherence to their well-established formula. It’ll never win awards – or sell well, for that matter – but will be well received by the Dinosaur Jr faithful.

As with all good Dinosaur Jr songs, Masics’ soothing vocals effortlessly propels the song, and the screeching guitar solo fits fantastically with the timbre of the track, soundly showcasing Masics’ musicianship.

Simply a great example of what the Massachusetts men do with confidence and class.

8/10

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Categorized as rock

Track Review: Frank Turner – The Gathering

The Gathering is a peach. Providing the familiar gangs-all-here chanting chorus, Frank Turner’s offering is much of the same, but the same is in safe hands.

From The opening rocky riff, interspersed with thumping bass drum, The Gathering will be a festival favourite. Turner is unquestionably a festival performer, possessing a panache for eliciting emotion across demographics. His anthemic musical arrangement is matched only by his capacity as a raconteur. A winning combination at beer soaked festival grounds; something The Gathering clearly yearns for in a post-COVID-19 world.

In no way is The Gathering an evolutionary progression for Turner; it’s simply a strong showcase of what he does better than any other artist of a similar elk. Turner’s elk is often emulated but never successfully encroached.

7/10

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Categorized as pop punk

Track Review: Twenty One Pilots – Choker

In much anticipation of Twenty One Pilots’ upcoming LP, Scaled and Icy, the Columbus natives tease with a new release, Choker; however, the tease is an unkind one to faithful fans. The duo have a formula they will not depart from: snappy drums; simple synths; crooning vocals and a bit of rap for good measure.

The verses’ staccato bass, accompanied by catchy beats and tongue-in-cheek synths are not inherently awful; it’s simply been visited more times by the pair than football fans to their local Ohio Stadium. The crescendo chorus attempts epic and cinematic status, and compliments the verse to an extent. However, the familiarity of the sound is irritating. By the time the track reaches its cliché token rap from Joseph, you might as well be listening to any other Twenty One Pilots song.

Nothing interesting here, and certainly nothing new. The parallels between Choker and big-hit, Chlorine, are irrefutable. The outcome, however, is worlds apart. In the same vein, the tin-man drums are a straight rip from Heavy Dirty Soul. The lyrical theme of Tyler Joseph’s insecurities has also been done to death.

This track could have made an appearance on their previous LP – as a means of soullessly meandering between one hit single to the next – but to put this song out as a pre-empt to their upcoming album, does not calm the nerves as to what might befall their next release.

Strip back the hype surrounding Twenty One Pilots, and this song is a dud. If a new artist were to release this song, the captive audience would be, at best, niche (with a very small “n”). Choker should have been choked at inception.

5/10