“The stuff of which legends are made.” (Rolling Stone). “A world-changing moment.” (The Observer). “The template for rock’n’roll in the modern day.” (BBC Radio 1). “You only capture this kind of a lightning in a bottle once.” (Pitchfork).
Hey, we could write a whole review just with these ecstatic quotes. But that’d be lazy, and a disservice to the band that single-handedly made rock cool again in the new millennium. Who are we talking about? Obviously the Strokes. This year marks the 20th anniversary of their debut album “Is This It”. Feel old yet? If you need to refresh your memory, click HERE.
Packing 11 songs in just 37 minutes, the Strokes burned through the music firmament like a meteorite coming from another era. What then became the obvious look for rock stars and wannabes (leather/denim jacket, skinny trousers, messy hair), was nowhere to be seen before the NYC quintet dropped their masterpiece in 2001. The speed of their songs and their style already hint to the inspiration that shaped the band, but when the record starts spinning, it becomes even clearer. Giants like the Velvet Underground, the Doors, and the Ramones stand at the horizon, giving their blessings to these scrawny kids.
And the blessings must have worked, because “Is This It” took off immediately. The album itself came on the back of a ruthless bidding war between labels (eventually won by RCA Records). Just look at the peak positions in the weekly charts: #1 in Germany, #2 in the UK, #5 in Australia. The album went on to rack up a ridiculous amount of certifications, from Platinum in the US to Double Platinum in the UK and Australia, to name a few. Critics have fawned over it ever since, with NME ranking it as best record of the 2000s and The Guardian placing it #2 among the 100 Best Albums of the 21st Century.
So what’s all the fuss about? It boils down to a combination of fast tempos, catchy choruses and a gritty sound. Ok, not so simple – unlike many of the copycats that followed them, the Strokes were comprised of highly skilled musicians with a remarkable talent for nailing memorable tunes. Oh and about that gritty sound… The record really does sound a world apart from the polished, over-produced mainstream music we are so used to nowadays.
Most of the songs have been recorded in one go, in the pursuit of what frontman Julian Casablancas called “raw efficiency”. Producer Gordon Raphael dabbled with industrial music and psych rock in his early days, and he sure did his part to keep the sound rough and genuine. To the point that when RCA came checking in, they felt the album did not sound professional enough, and that this would destroy the nascent career of the Strokes. Casablancas insisted on playing the tracks on an old boom box, and suddenly… the label’s delegate was sold. The rest is history.
Still from: “The Strokes – Someday (Official Music Video)”, uploaded by The Strokes to YouTube.com