There is one thing about ‘Is This It?’ that I don’t like. The hype. The fact that this album was hailed as a classic about three days after it was released. It was greeted with reviews saying that it was the album that “Velvet Underground wanted to make in 1969” and other equally nonsense statements and it almost ruined it. It isn’t of course the album that the Velvet Underground wanted to make in 1969, but it is a great indie rock record that can justifiably be seen as a classic.
I was sitting on Ealing Common when I first heard The Strokes. I’d been deliberately avoiding them because of the hype. It was a weird experience. It was almost like I been transported back in time. Firstly, I was sitting in a 1975 Triumph Dolomite, secondly the mist had rolled in across the common like something from a 70s horror film and thirdly, the radio went all crackly and ‘Last Nite’ suddenly blurted into life.
Last Nite – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)
My first thought, genuinely, “Meh” but I might have been more concerned about a werewolf attacking me. The second time I heard The Strokes I was in HMV in Exeter and ‘The Modern Age’ was blaring out of the stereo, the drums stomping across the store like an angry elephant.
The Modern Age – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)
The third time I heard The Strokes was in my lounge and it was about thirty minutes after the second time. By the end of my first full listen of ‘Is This It?’ I’d decided that The Strokes were a breath of (admittedly much hyped) fresh air who had arrived at exactly the right time to kick indie rock in exactly the right place.
I’ve often tried to explain what The Strokes sound like. I’ve used words like frantic (eleven songs, 32 minutes), and incessant (especially where Nikolai Fraiture is concerned) to describe their overall sound. I’ve described the guitars as choppy and spiky and punky especially on ‘Someday’. I think I said that the hook on ‘Hard to Explain’ was unforgettable, because, you know, it is.
I’ve described Julian Casablancas as the greatest vocalist of the last twenty years (which he isn’t). I also proudly declared that Nick Valensi had the greatest hair in rock music (which was at least true in 2005).
Someday – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)
Hard to Explain – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)
Whatever, I wrote it never seemed quite right. I can’t tell you what it is that makes ‘Is This It?’ so good. It might be how they make it sound effortlessly easy, it might be the way that Julian Casablancas vocals sound like they have been recorded down a telephone and still sound amazing. It might just be the fact that ‘New York City Cops’ is one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
New York City Cops – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)
So on this occasion the hype machine got it right. A rare thing to be honest. They didn’t get it right again until the Arctic Monkeys shuffled out of Rotherham with their songs about freezing cold prostitutes.